Why I'm Not Defined by My Chronic Illness

Until quite recently, I have avoided thinking too much about chronic illness and it’s impact on my life. I didn’t want to become “one of those people.” You know, those people whose chronic illness or disability becomes the soul of their identity. I thought it was either/or. I didn’t understand that identity could be a spectrum that is continually fluid.

This process of not only thinking about my identity and chronic illness, but documenting my thoughts in a cohesive way has been incredibly therapeutic. I reflect, write, re-write. I have drafts of thoughts, feelings, and events that I may never share because I can’t figure out how to coherently express it. No matter what, it’s helped me process through a myriad of emotions that have been long lingering under the surface. I feel like I’m letting parts of me free.

Posting on a blog shouldn’t be scary. I don’t know how many people read what I write, but for me, it’s a way to develop, form, and eventually release things that I think about. But it’s scary, putting yourself out there like that.

One day, I got the bright idea of sending one of my posts to The Mighty. It was a post on dating and chronic illness disclosure, effectively outing myself to anyone who Googles my name. I had several seconds of “holy @#$% – I need to retract it!!” But, I realized that would then defy the point of writing it in the first place: I can’t be anybody other than me.

The thing is, while I don’t want having a chronic illness to be the thing that defines me, it is definitely a part of me. And in some ways, I think it’s made me a better person. I know that it’s made me more aware about disability, perception, and healthcare. It has made me appreciate the love of family, and friends who become family, who support me whether they “get it” or not. I’ve learned to hold on to the small moments, those slowing down enough to smell the roses kind of moments: the perfect fall day where my body cooperates enough for a walk through the forest preserve, being able to crawl around with my nieces, or sit through a movie in a movie theater.

Would I have become, personality wise, the person I am today without my chronic illnesses? Maybe, but not likely. But I try very hard to not fret too much about “what ifs” and focus on the things I can control. I am an imperfect person living in an imperfect body, but I know some the things that I am today came well before all the chronic illness. I am someone who has always deeply cared about animals and animal welfare, ecology, rainforests, and the dwindling resources on our planet. I believe that one person’s choices can make an impact.

I am more than someone with fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, interstitial cystitis, and asthma.

I am a woman.

I am a supporter of the #MeToo movement and in civil rights for all.

I am a pesco-vegetarian.

I am a liberal.

I am Jewish and believe in tikkum olam.

I am a volunteer with local groups that serve children and families.

I am from a military family and believe that there should be more gun control.

I believe in vaccinations and in the concept of herd immunity.

I am a dog lover and cat tolerator.

I am a lover of travel.

I am a Bill Bryson fan.

I don’t like peanut butter.

I love dark chocolate.

No one label defines me.

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