The Mighty Logo

How My Chronic Illnesses Have Altered My Sense of Self

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I feel as though I am a shadow of my former self. It has been about four years since I was diagnosed with an incurable illness. One that would change and try to dictate the rest of my life. Over the years, that illness has come with what I call unwelcome friends who can be just as dangerous as the rest. Formerly, I would venture out and about and perform my errands around town without a second thought. I attended social events with friends, was moderately outgoing, and I did not give much thought to the changes that could affect my body. This normalcy changed seemingly overnight.

Over time, I realized that not just my physical self has changed, but the way I see myself as well. I have tried to process this with cognitive therapy.  I believe it is important to talk to an unobjective someone and in a mostly uninhibited way about living with chronic illness and how it makes me feel. I have described this in detail to my therapist and she helps me process what is happening to my body on a mental and physical level.  The medical questions I leave to my physicians as they are the most qualified.  But I cannot escape the way living with multiple incurable illnesses has altered my life.

My days and weeks are occupied by medical appointments. I am on a first-name basis with many of the staff at the multitude of offices where I see my doctors for my conditions. I have begun to use mobility aids, such as walking sticks or a wheelchair, as it is difficult to walk anymore without chronic pain. I have illness(es) that are potentially life-threatening and that aspect can be scary. I generally rely on very close family nowadays as I have begun to retreat from others, including extended family. I do not know how I became this way.

Today, I have very few friends.  I am probably a little socially awkward.  I generally shy away from meeting new people, and I do not like speaking up at social events. Many people I have met over the years have disappeared from my life, whether that is due to time apart decaying relationships as I try to tell myself, or perhaps it is just that sometimes I wonder who wants to spend their time being held back by a sick person who cannot partake in the same events as everyone else. I try to avoid that thought because I acknowledge that it is very unhealthy (and may or may not be true).  But I cannot escape how I feel.

I try to tell myself healthy and encouraging thoughts but am not always successful. The cognitive distortions I learned about in years of therapy dealing with all this sometimes break loose and can affect the way I see myself.  I am not sure what the rest of my life has in store for me. The last decade or so has been an extremely rough ride and I could use a break.  But so far, my illnesses are not letting up and I have begun to expect them to add secondary-related conditions every so often.

I am not sure where to find relief. But I know that writing my thoughts down does help. It lets me express to others the way I feel and put ideas to paper to let go of some of the internalized tension. Otherwise, I can repeatedly get lost in unhealthy, distorted thoughts. And that is no way to live despite whatever physical things are happening to my body.  I just try to stay as positive as possible and carry on with the close friends and family I have left.  For that is all I have.

Getty image by Viacheslav Peretiatko.

Originally published: June 12, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home