You Are Not Your Illness

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Editor’s note: This article was first published on ProHealth on November 8, 2006. Although written nearly 10 years ago, its message is timeless.

Do you feel like you are not the same person you were before you developed fibromyalgia? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve talked to hundreds of other FM patients who have expressed similar sentiments.

Sadly, our society tends to evaluate people’s worth on the basis of external factors like beauty, physical prowess, wealth and power. The way the media glorifies these traits makes it easy to fall into the trap of believing that our value as a person is dependent upon how we look or what we do. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. You are a valuable person – not because of what you do, but because of who you are.

Discovering the Real You

As a human being, you are so much more than just a body; you also have a soul and spirit. Your physical body is only one part of the person who is you. It’s the outer shell that houses the real you inside.

It’s your soul that is the core of who you are – your personality. It’s what makes you unique. Your soul is how you think, feel, relate to others and understand yourself. The traits that define the real you reside in your soul.

Another important part of you is your spirit, which is your source of strength. It manifests itself as creativity, wisdom, insight, sensitivity and conscience. If you believe in God or a Higher Power, it’s your spirit that connects with that power.

Of all the parts that make up the real you, fibromyalgia only touches your body – the outer shell. Granted it can wreak havoc with your body, but it cannot affect your soul and spirit unless you allow it to. In fact, bodily limitations will often free the true you to grow and develop as never before.

It’s much like a seed. When you look at a flower seed, all you see is the outer shell, but within that shell is the life force of the flower. That flower cannot grow and bloom, however, until the seed is buried and the shell breaks open, releasing the hidden life force. Similarly, when your physical body “breaks,” your true beauty – found in the life forces within your soul and spirit – has an opportunity to grow and bloom.

Bloom Where You’re Planted

As FM takes its toll and you watch the hopes and dreams attached to your old way of life fade, it may be hard to see anything good or positive for yourself in the future. It’s both normal and necessary to grieve the loss of your old life. But at some point, it’s important for you to come to a place of accepting that your life will be different than you once envisioned it. This is the time to work on changing your focus. Instead of seeing FM as an end to your old way of life, try to look at it as an opportunity to grow and develop in new ways.

Rather than focusing on activities you can no longer do, look inside yourself and identify the qualities that made you good at what you did. For example, although you may no longer be able to set sales records in your company, you still have the qualities that made you a top salesperson: drive, determination, and persuasiveness. Or if you can’t go white-water rafting anymore, you still possess the qualities that made it a sport you loved: courage, an adventurous spirit and a love of nature.

You still have the same inner qualities you’ve always had. Having FM doesn’t mean you have to give up who you are. It just means you have to find new ways to express who you are. I say these things from very personal experience. I’ve always been a creative person. Before FM I expressed my ceativity as a dancer and choreographer. Now I use that same creativity to express myself through writing and graphic design. FM didn’t change who I am; it just changed how I express who I am.

Although FM may have “broken” your body, don’t allow it access to your soul and spirit. Identify those qualities and traits that make you who you are. And never forget that you are a person of great value.

Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE, the very first full-color, glossy magazine devoted to FM and other invisible illnesses.  After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website, and then for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network.

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