Reprinted from LadyofLyme.com with the kind permission of Christina. To read the original article, click here.
"I am NOT my illness."
Yesterday, as I was casually scrolling along through twitter, I saw a series of tweets which said: "To say I'm not my illness would be untrue. It is a part of me whether I like it or not. The person I am is heavily influenced by my illness." These tweets collectively have over 200 Likes and 'Retweets.' When I saw that it instantly made me feel a deep sadness. I felt sad for the person who believed it enough to tweet it, and then more so when I realized how many people also agreed.
First things first I want to encourage everyone who reads this to not let sadness or darkness take you down a path where you ever believe that your illness defines you, or is you. It's simply not true. That kind of mindset is damaging, and the more its reinforced the more your mind & body will believe it.
My illness has no bearing or influence on the person I am. Let me explain…
When I was born into this world I was already a unique individual human being. Then as I grew up I developed so many different personality traits that collectively became "Christina." I became who I am today by the hobbies I liked, the qualities I possessed, and the moral compass that was instilled in me, among so many other things. The friends who knew me "pre-illness," know I am still the exact same person today. When I get to catch up with some of my oldest friends we do not sit around talking about my illness for hours. We pick back up right where we left off and laugh and talk for hours about absolutely everything. Nothing has changed in regards to who I am at my very core.
Sure my life has changed since I got sick, I will absolutely admit to that. But those are my circumstances, that's not ME. And there is a huge difference there. My circumstances don't enable me to grab brunch with my girlfriends every Saturday afternoon, but I still love brunch just as much now as I did a few years ago. My circumstances may stop me from getting to see my friends sometimes, or the visits are cut short if symptoms hit, but I still love catching up about all our shared interests just as much now as I did a few years ago. My circumstances may prevent me from attending my alumni's college basketball games in person, but I still love to watch them on TV whenever I can now just as much as I did a few years ago. You get the idea here, right? Maybe I can't eat Taco Bell at 4am anymore or have a spontaneous vacation with my friends, but those are just my circumstances. It doesn't change the fact that if I could I would go do those very things I used to do. Because at my core I am still ME.
Circumstances do not need to become who you are. Don't ever let them. Don't let your illness fool you into thinking that you are less than or undeserving of living a life filled with hope. And most importantly, don't let anyone or anything anchor your illness onto you like a weight which drags you down and convinces you that you can't exist without it. It isn't an identity to be ill, it's just the circumstance that life dealt. It's not an ideal circumstance, but we all have our unique paths in life that we travel, and sometimes illness is just one of them.
Did being sick change my worldview? Yes it did. Did it change my priorities in life, or what I take time to cherish? Yes it has. I have learned a lot along the way, and I continue to learn a lot. Some of it good, some of it bad. But the things I have learned or the ways I have grown are just that… growth. We all grow as we age and take different paths in life. But growth also doesn't equal taking on an identity of an illness or "changing." It just means that you take stock of your life and you morph with your newly learned life lessons. I'm not the same version of myself today as I was in high school because I matured. But one of my best friends today is from high school, and although we both grew throughout the 12+ years of life's journey we are just as close today as we were then. Why? Because we had a bond much deeper than our circumstances, and what was left when life got chaotic and crazy was our initial friendship which was based on who we are as individuals at our core. It's really just that simple.
I know that being sick can get come with a need to vent, or moments of frustration. I also know that being sick can come with times where friends might leave, or family members become undependable. Lots of things do happen with an illness that can leave a person feeling bitter and hurt. It's easy to get pulled into the mentality of letting that illness consume you. You may even feel a sensation of, "It's me and this illness against the world!" especially if you are alone on this journey because the people you loved bailed. But even on the darkest days when you spend every single second managing pain and talking to yourself to cope, it still doesn't define you. Even if weeks and months pass and you have been in too much pain to do anything other than lie there and manage it, and take pills, and see Doctors, and it feels like that has become so much of your life that becomes you, just know that it's NOT. Those are your circumstances. It is not who YOU are. It will never be who you are. You are not your illness, and it does not define you. Ever. It might mold you, and it might teach you, but never let it steal away your beautiful, unique, special identity. You were created perfectly, and nothing can ever change that.
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Christina is the founder of Lady of Lyme, a blog chronicling her journey to find health with Lyme Disease. To read her blog, click here: www.LadyofLyme.com