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Reminding Myself of Who I Am as Someone With Chronic Illness

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I know it feels like your illness defines who you are. I know it feels like your illness took away so many things important to you in your life. It took away your school, your sports and hobbies, some of your friendships and your plans for your career.

When people tell you your illness shouldn’t define you, you struggle to believe them. Why should you believe them? It did take away many of the ways you used to identify: a student, a farmer, an athlete, a leader of many clubs, a friend.

But what you can’t see now is that it won’t always define who you are. Identities change over time. This isn’t the first time that you’ve lost identities. You’ve lost the identity of being a child, a piano player, a soccer player, a summer camp counselor, a waitress. Those losses might have felt easier because they were your choice and they weren’t all at once. But you’ve also gained identities. You became a college student, a farmer, an ultimate frisbee player.

You could decide tomorrow to learn a new language or to become a passionate fan of minor league baseball. You could become an avid listener of murder mystery podcasts. Or an expert in birdcalls. There are infinitely many identities.

What if, instead of defining yourself by your identities, you took time to remind yourself of who you are? Recently, I read the quote “What I thought before was an identity, I realize now was just an experience.”

Since then, it keeps coming back to me. Because regardless of how we define ourselves, at some point that identity will leave us. It will just be another thing we experienced. But what hasn’t changed is who you are.

I hope that you can take some time to reflect on this quote. What identities do you mistake for being you? What would change if you think of them as experiences? And who are you beneath all of those identities? Who do you want to be? A good listener, a generous friend, a loyal sports fan?

Even though things have changed for you, and they changed how you live and what feels like who you are, these things will one day change again. You won’t forget this experience, but you will be able to look back on it as one of many experiences throughout your life. Just like any experience, it will change you. It will teach you lessons you’ve never imagined and skills that you will carry with you forever.

Getty image by SurfUpVector

Originally published: July 26, 2021
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