How do you grieve, find some level of acceptance, and move forward with the person that you have now become, since chronic illness made a presence in your life?
I think it's reasonable to understand that chronic illness can and does negatively impact our lives in various ways. It causes, or at least it does me, to question who I am and what role I now have in society. When one unexpectedly becomes chronically ill, there is so much more to handle than just our condition(s). Often we, the patients, are using all of our available energy attempting to treat, or in many cases, tolerate, our symptoms as well as possible. Daily, we face limitations, some of which are visible, and others which are hidden. When chronic illness resides within us, more than just our physical life are tampered with, and unfortunately, in some situations, destroyed.
The reality is that many people that live with chronic illnesses are.......
- Forced to change or quit their jobs
- Facing financial hardships:
- increased medical expenses, less income due to medical leave/sick days
- Forced to become dependent on others
- Loss of support (Friends, family members, colleagues sometimes leave the troubled)
- Inability to engage in activities once enjoyed with family and friends
- Unpredictability of our health condition
All of which dramatically alter and impact not only our's, but also our loved ones' lifestyles.
These undesirable changes can create a LOT of confusion and uncertainty. Our identities, the ones that were familiar, the ones we created, and often the ones we defined ourselves by, suddenly disappear. Our new reality is scarier, stranger, unknown and flooded with uncertainties. Not only are we left suffering and trying to figure out how to best live with our new health conditions, but we are sometimes left emotionally suffering as we try to figure out our new "normal".
Waking up one day to a strange body and eventually staring at a stranger in the mirror, one that you no longer recognize, can be agonizing. It's mentally exhausting and disheartening, especially when you can't seem to let go of your former self.
How do you decipher your true identity, the one that is suppose to represent us for our entire life? Ideally, I think you would reflect up your talents, knowledge, skills, personality, and ultimately your "being". But what happens when you just see an empty blank slate? When the talents and skills that you once saw in yourself have become obsolete?
When all of your most current knowledge seems to dwell on your medical experiences and personal research. Your personality bounces around from one extreme to the next as you try to protect yourself or the ones you love from the horrible symptoms, loneliness, and at times negative thoughts that poison your spirit day after day. Avoidance and distractions become the norm. Withdrawing yourself, so there is no one left to disappoint or feel disappointed by. For me personally, I catch myself trying to withdraw from everyone except my kids.
I believe that it's important for us to recognize our tendancy to withdraw or isolate ourselves. Let's be honest, living with chronic illness is already isolating us enough. We don't need to isolate ourselves any further. We need positive personal connections to maintain our "humanness".
Sounds easy, right?
Hell, I wish that was the case. You see, when dealing with feeling physically awful day after day, facing nearly constant symptoms, missing out on special experiences and opportunities, letting others down with failed plans, and also dealing with negative consequences on account of your actions on a regular basis - your mind begins to be compromised as well. When you lose yourself, lose your identity, and no longer know who you are or what you have to offer, it becomes difficult, seemingly impossible, to communicate, share, encourage, support, or even genuinely connect with others.
It's like the way you view yourself slowly begins to erode away. Everything you used to think about yourself is now challenged by your new limitations, placed on you by your own body. Reconsidering who you are deep down inside and having trouble defining yourself to the world can make it even harder to accept the realities of living with chronic illness. You start to feel angry, hopeless, helpless, resentful, damaged and yes, even depressed. Coping can become overwhelming and your new identity just isn’t as helpful or desirable as your old one, or at least that's been what it appears and feels like for me recently.
Deep down I know that I am someone. I know that I try to help others when I can. I know that I'm kind and compassionate. I know that I'm a caring and loving parent. I just can't figure out how to redefine or reconnect with myself. I have been sick for over 5 years now. I was sick for a few years before I started losing my identity and self. I was able to hold on to my identity when I believed that I was going to be healed. My mentality or anxiety did NOT cause my illness. But, I can admit that the past couple of years have been a course of ups and downs as I struggle to live with the stress that chronic illness has placed on my daily life.
However, I refuse to cave. I am determined to reclaim and identify with a newer version of my identity. One that is respectable, acceptable, and manageable for me. So let the quest continue...
If chronic illness has led you down a path of an identity crisis, I would love to hear your story.
How did you redefine or reclaim your identity?
Feel free to comment below or private message me via the contact form.