Transcending Chronic Illness

re-defining yourself ~ a new identity
an identity based on more than what you can do
Chronic illness throws us into a no-mans-land where we are no longer who we were and for a while we are not at all sure who we are becoming.

We can no longer define ourselves based on what we do, what we accomplish. In a society that often identifies us by things like our jobs or affluence this is especially difficult. A part of us knows that we matter to friends and family simply because they care about us but it's hard to deal with the fact we can no longer accomplish what we used to. We may have to quit our jobs or work part time. Hobbies and recreational activities that we used to be involved in may no longer be possible. This means not only a loss of enjoyable activities but there may be fewer chances for involvement with friends we know through these activities.

An added factor is the fact that even if our primary disability is not depression we can easily become depressed simply because our illness gets us down. When we are depressed it's so much easier to feel worthless and we are unable to see the illogic of that conclusion. I found the best way to deal with this is to imagine a dear friend or family member with the same condition as you have. How would you view this person? Of course you wouldn't suddenly consider them to be worthless and unlovable simply because of their chronic illness! He or she would still be as dear to you as ever.

Nevertheless we do gain some of our identity through our activities and may well have to develop new interests to replace old ones. Even these new activities may have to be adjusted depending on how we feel from day to day. You may join a knitting or quilting group then find your health problems force you to miss going at times. You may not be able to get out at all for a while and then it's all the more important to find something that interests you that you can do at home.

In my case it was learning to build a website then researching and writing information for it. The computer can be a blessing for those of us with chronic illness. Even when we are forced to stay at home and rest we can connect online. At first we seek out information and message boards about our condition. It helps to see we are not alone and we can learn coping techniques for our specific condition. The computer doesn't care if we get too tired and have to lie down or if we stumble along forgetting words or even what we intended to do. We can be involved at our own pace.

But it's important that we don't get stuck at this stage. While we may stay involved in the community of support for our disability we need to branch out to other interests as well. We don't want our disability to become who we believe we are.

This is a slow process. It took me a few years before I could really let go of the past and appreciate who I've become. So be patient with yourself.

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