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When It Finally Hit Me: I Don't Have to Revolve My Identity Around My POTS

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For more than six years I have been battling postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Since then, I’ve gone through many different levels of acceptance in regards to my chronically ill life. Several years prior to my POTS diagnosis, I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which meant that I was used to having to make some lifestyle changes and modifications for the sake of my health.

When I first received my POTS diagnosis, I made my whole life revolve around my illness. It was the only thing I used to describe myself — the “Girl Who Faints a Lot” was my sole identity. Though whenever I would get my symptoms under control for more than a few weeks, I would shift my self-identification to the other extreme, and I became the “Girl Who Is Never Ill.” I would refuse to let anyone help me and I would never admit that I was tired or dizzy or needed some rest.

The “Girl Who Is Never Ill” identity would only last until my POTS symptoms got out of control and I ended up in the emergency room. At this point, I would return to my “Girl Who Faints a Lot” identity. This pattern of identity-swapping went on throughout high school and college.

Recently, I graduated college and moved away from family and close friends to begin my “adult life” with my own career, apartment and responsibilities. I began this journey under my “Girl Who Is Never Ill” identity, but this past week, my new coworkers were introduced to the “Girl Who Faints a Lot.”

I missed most of the work week because I was in and out of the ER fighting low blood pressure, tachycardia, and fainting spells. I was heartbroken that, once again, I couldn’t just be a “normal” and healthy young adult. I felt like my body had betrayed me.

But yesterday, as I was leaving my cardiologist’s office, it finally hit me that I can embrace my sick and healthy identities at the same time. Just because I faint frequently doesn’t mean that is who I am. I am a daughter, a friend, a sister, a Netflix addict, a vegetarian, a cat mom and someone with chronic illnesses. It is OK that I need to rest a little extra and spend time taking care of myself. I believe that in accepting all aspects of my identity, I will be able to be more proactive about my health without letting my illnesses consume my life entirely.

It’s OK to be sick, and while that may be a big aspect of your life, it’s certainly not the only thing that constitutes your identity. It’s important to remember that you have interests, hobbies and people who care about you, and that you are so much more than your illness(es).

Originally published: August 3, 2016
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