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My Illness Doesn't Define Me, but It's Still a Big Part of Who I Am

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This is a topic widely discussed within the chronic illness community. You’ll see people saying everywhere, “Don’t let your illness define you.”

You know what? No, my illness doesn’t define me, but it is one of the
things that defines me. Here is a list of other things that define me:

  • My favorite color.
  • My favorite TV show.
  • My favorite animal.
  • The thoughts that go through my mind before I go to sleep.
  • What causes I feel passionate about.
  • What I like to do in my spare time.
  • What kind of characteristics I’m drawn to in a friend.
  • The way I react to specific types of situations.
  • The little things that make me laugh.
  • How introverted or extroverted I am.
  • What situations I tend to shy away from.
  • How I treat strangers.
  • How I treat my friends.
  • My goals and aspirations.
  • What makes me grateful.
  • The people I love.

And then there’s the debate: Does my health status go on that list? I’m
not sure it absolutely goes on that list. But I can tell you without a doubt that my chronic illness affects almost every single thing on that list. And yeah, that makes it a big part of me in the end.

For example, the things that make me grateful have changed since I became sick. I’m grateful now for things I previously wouldn’t have even known to be grateful for because of my illness. I treat strangers differently now because you never know what they’re going through. I do activities in my spare time that my abilities allow me to do. I feel extremely passionate about raising awareness for these causes I may never have even been aware of had I not gone through this.

woman sitting in her wheelchair at a conference

A very wise woman named Kerri Sparling, who has type 1 diabetes, coined the quote: “Diabetes doesn’t define me, but it helps explain me.” And to me, that’s an incredible way of saying it.

I think the phrase “Don’t let your illness define you” should change to “Don’t let your illness be the only thing that defines you.” Because it is inherently a part of us, even if we didn’t choose it. But each and every one of us have other things that explain who we are even better than our illness does. And sometimes I do like to choose to focus on that.

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Originally published: August 21, 2017
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