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How My Identity Is Affected as a Woman With Chronic Pain

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I’ve been thinking about identity a lot lately. Identity is how we describe ourselves, or define who we are. The easiest way to think about it is if you meet someone for the first time, your identity is how you would describe yourself and who you are. For most people, identity is based on what your job is, as career is a significant aspect of daily life. Identity may also be found in a person’s roles, for example, being a spouse, parent, or sibling. We may even define ourselves by our beliefs, values, or hobbies. And while these things are all major aspects of who we are, so many of us hold something else within our identity – our health. Although I am a student, a daughter, and a Christian, I am also a young woman with chronic pain. As much as I may wish this was not a part of my identity, I often feel as if it defines me and my daily life, and it is part of the way that I view myself.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that your illness or condition “doesn’t define you.” In fact, I know that I have said this myself before. Lately I’ve been thinking about this phrase more and more, and decided to take it apart and understand what it really means.

The truth is, my pain does define some of the things in my life. It factors into my decisions and the choices I make, as I do things that I might not do otherwise if it was not a part of my life. My pain changes the way that I see the world – I am constantly looking through the lens of my condition. My pain limits me in different ways, and it affects me every single moment of every day. As much as I may not want it to be, my pain is a part of who I am, and I can’t change that. In fact, I can not imagine my life without pain. I have grown accustomed to living with it everyday, and my life has been shaped around it and in the midst of it.

While all of this is true, there is an important distinction to make regarding this topic. While I am a woman with a chronic pain condition, this is not my sole identity. The important word to use here is “with.” I am a woman with pain, but that is not who I am. I am not a condition, I am not a medical file, and I am not a definition. Though my pain may decide my to-do list and my daily activities, it does not change my dreams and my ambition. While it may affect my relationships with others and how much I can commit to, It does not define who I am as a friend and a daughter, and it does not change my purpose.

My pain is a part of me, but it is not me. I am a child of God, a student, a daughter, a friend, and I live with chronic pain. It is OK for me to hold this as a part of who I am, because it will forever be a part of me. What is not OK, is for me to see myself as a pain condition, or a number, or believe that this is something that defines who I am. I am still me, even though I have chronic pain. While it may change my decisions and my choices over the course of my life, it will never change me, and everyday I remind myself of just who I am.  I am still me – my pain can never change that.

Friends, believe the truth that you are not defined by a condition or an illness.

You are defined by the fact that you are a human being with unique roles, beliefs, qualities, and talents. You are identified by who you are as a person. While your illness is a part of your life, and likely always will be, it does not make you who you are. It may affect your life, but it does not define your life. Remind yourself that who you are is based in the uniqueness and significance of you.

The main take away message is this – your condition is something you experience, not something you are.

Getty Image by MangoStar_Studio

Originally published: July 26, 2018
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