This follows on from yesterday’s post, “Coping“. This subject of coping with a chronic illness has really captured my mind, and so I want to devote some more attention to it; I think it is definitely a relevant subject for (inter)National Health Blog Post Month.
It happens like this: an ordinary person trundles along through life, happily doing their best to achieve all anyone could ask for. They work hard to get a fulfilling career, and feed their family. Time and energy are sacrificed so that their children can have good things. Maybe they are saving up for a house, or a holiday with their friends; maybe just for their future. Hobbies are established, developed, nurtured. Friendships are cherished.
Then, suddenly, it strikes; the illness. One day they could go mountain climbing with their pals from work, the next they can barely make it to the bathroom. Slowly they lose touch with their treasured companions, as they have to decline more and more social events. They go to half hours, then sick leave; then they lose their job altogether. Family are alarmed at first, but soon get used to the new, unreliable member. Hobbies are neglected. Social clubs are abandoned. Savings are eaten up in that endless struggle to stay alive. Relationships disintegrate.
It happens time and time again; and each time that lonely person is found, lost at the eye of the storm, simply wondering – who am I now I have lost everything I was?
Allow me to be controversial here – I think I knew less about who I was, before I lost everything I said I was. I used to describe myself by the things I did; I have now been forced to evaluate who I am. Losing everything has been a devastating grief process for me, that I am still going through – but it has made me realise that I was not any of those things which I have lost, I was merely doing them.
I think that this is such an important thing for people to realise, whether they are ill or not. For those who are ill, however, it might mark the boundary between coping and not: You are still you. What you do does not define who you are.
Don’t get me wrong – losing these things is one of the most devastating things that can happen to you. It is utterly heartbreaking to say “I was, but I am not any more”. It destroys people to admit that they are no longer able. Realising that they didn’t define you doesn’t make losing all those things we cherished any less painful. Each of these things- work, friendship, family, hobbies, our future, or whatever else you may have lost – is incredibly important, and that’s why it hurts. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you have lost so much, you are no longer you. It is healthy and good to grieve for the things that are no more, or can never be. If they were worth doing, they are worth crying over when you cannot do them any more. If it was worth dreaming about, it’s worth weeping because that dream can’t come true.
So here’s a thought for you – work out who you are. Work out what is important to you. You might not know yourself very well, but that doesn’t mean you don’t exist aside from the things you did. Remember too that you can change yourself if you don’t like what you find.
Find new, more insightful ways to define yourself – “I am honest”, “I am a true friend”, “I am a mother”, “I am a person who thinks carefully about all manner of things”. It is things like this who make you who you are – not your job, your plans, your skills. They may have made you, but they are not you.
My other thought is this – everyone loses parts of themselves throughout life, it is part of the journey. But the things they can no longer do are still in some way a part of them, because it shaped them. Perhaps that’s exactly why it is so heartbreaking – because we find that we are still that person who did those things, but we can no longer do them.