Chronic illness isn’t how you are and in many ways it Doesn’t define you and shouldn’t define you. But we cannot deny it has an impact and in that sense it does define our who we are and how we move in the world in some important ways. So in some ways chronic illness does define our journey in this world. Which changes us as people in many, many ways. How could it not?
- Pacing and not exceeding our limits: This is a defining characteristic of chronic illness that is fundamental to coping. It is something healthy people could Learn from us to manage their stressful, hectic lifestyles. It defines us because this is a pace, a lifestyle pace, we adopt that changes how we move in the world. When we say no to events and gathers. When we say yes. Knowing when to say no. Understanding we have limitations and staying within them. We do not have a hectic lifestyle. We have a paced lifestyle. Being defined by that is a good and positive thing, because it is something that helps us cope a great deal.
- Lifestyle modifications: We do many things to alter our lifestyle, from exercise to specific diets, for our health. This is a part of how we are because these things are things we learned help us cope and manage our symptoms. They are part of our lifestyle, therefore part of what defines who we are and how we live in the world.
- Perseverance: We all have the trait of perseverance to get through chronic illness and deal with a constant stressor and the unpredictability of chronic illness in our lives. It is a defining feature we all share and gets us through.
- A greater capacity for empathy– Most of having endured pain, suffering, financial issues that come with illness have a greater capacity to empathize with others suffering, even when that suffering is different from our own.
- Self-identity: Another defining characteristic of chronic illness is reflecting upon and adapting our self-identity. When we are on leaves from work, when we are on disability, our sense of self suffers… and we find a new sense of self somehow from the wreckage. This takes introspection, reflection and work. This journey is because of our illness but is valuable because we shouldn’t be defined by what we do for a living. We all have more value than that.
- Self-worth: The same as with self-identity many of us have struggled with our self worth because of chronic illness. And we have had to come to terms with ways to redefine our worth. The illness itself is what damages that self-worth, lack of working can further damage it, but it is the process of coping that heals it.
- Coping: Think of yourself in the beginning of your chronic illness journey, think of yourself now. You have grown. You have adapted. You move in the world differently. You cope better with an illness you now understand a great deal more. Coping is an ever flowing process, but over time we learn a great deal. We grow and we change a great deal. Illness changes us as we cope with it. As we develop positive coping strategies and adapt to have a life with illness. And a defining characteristic is we all grow, learn and adapt from coping. And that changes us as people along the way, as any experience and journey does.
The journey of chronic pain and chronic illness changes us, it defines us in certain ways, our coping changes us in many positive ways. We are not our illness, but we have grown from it, strengthened from it, adapted to it and our being in the world is different because of it. Like any experience, pain and chronic illness affect us, change us and leave an imprint on us. They do therefore define parts of the person we have become. The main difference is this: it may have a role in making us who we are, as any experience has, and it may define how we live in the world, but it doesn’t Own us. It doesn’t Define our existence. Own our life. We are More than our illness. And we have a life beyond illness.