Is chronic pain and illness a part of your identity?

Is chronic pain and chronic illness part of your identity and if so is that good or bad?

“As long as you make an identity for yourself out of the pain, you cannot become free of it. As long as part of your sense of self is invested in your emotional pain, you will unconsciously resist or sabotage every attempt that you make to heal that pain. Why?

Quite simply because you want to keep yourself intact, and the pain has become an essential part of you. This is an unconscious process, and the only way to overcome it is to make it conscious.”

― Eckhart Tolle

Is chronic pain and illness a part of your identity

You have to be a little careful as a chronic illness blogger that the illness you write about so often doesn’t become a part of who you are. Because one day… poof a cure and then where is your identity? If it becomes an essential part of who you Are as a person then how do you achieve acceptance and want treatments to succeed and cope and be a person?

And part of that is our Pain Story and what we tell ourselves about the pain. How our brain weaves a story to make sense out of it. The relationship we have with it. What it tells us about ourselves. Whether we have any effective treatment and quality of life.

And there has to be a line between our pain story and our story. Because our story is vast and detailed and broad… and the pain is but a facet of living we deal with.

If illness and pain poofed away today… this moment… who would you Be?

With illness, we fight for our self-identity. Without it… we would simply change our perspective again. We would be free to just Be without all the blame and guilt we have loaded onto ourselves. But I highly doubt we would mourn the previous self-identity we had even if we did have chronic illness as part of it. We would cautiously move on with our lives.

We cannot let the pain own us.

It owns how we move in the world. Yes. Because we have limitations that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

But it isn’t a core part of who we are either.

It isn’t My Pain… it is the pain. The illness. The vertigo. It is the hardships and obstacles I deal with in order to manifest my selfhood.

Sometimes people say that it helps to call your disease The. So the migraine, the fibromyalgia, the vertigo. Not My fibromyalgia, migraines, vertigo. Because you do not own it is a character trait intrinsic to your self… it is a thing you cope with.

The way I really see this topic is this: Yeah, it isn’t an intrinsic part of who I am. But it is a vital factor in how I live in the world. To what I can do. To how I can achieve any goal. It has to be considered at all times. I have to do 1001 things to help manage it. That means a lot of care and attention to it to just manage the day. That also means fundamentally we think about our illness a lot just by trying to cope with it. It is a part of our everyday lives.

But clearly, it isn’t who we are as a person. If anything, it limits who we are as a person. We want to be our whole selves and we are held back by illness. We know it isn’t something we own… like I own my introversion. But literally, so many things are affected by illness. I am absent-minded and I always have been. But with brain fog ever present it is hard to think, concentrate, and remember things. One is a trait I own and the other is a symptom that affects my capacity to function. And either way, I have to deal with that. Just the pain alone… it changes us. It causes a lot of emotional turmoil. And limits us. And just dealing with it for a long period of time changes us so we can survive.

The body as Other

So maybe our self-identity does get tangled in with chronic illness and pain. But in other ways, it definitely does Not. Like how I think of Me and then That Damn Body that doesn’t work. I create a dichotomy between me and my body, even though they are the same thing. Like I am at war with my body. And we are not. We work with our bodies and limitations. I think I do that more… see my body as a thing that is failing me. More than I think chronic illness as part of my identity. I feel so much more that it impedes my identity. That it is preventing me from manifesting all the awesomeness that is me. I feel like I have to constantly adjust my sense of self just to adjust to the illness… so I can still feel good about the person I am.

There is this sick person and there is me trying to have a life in this chronically ill body. And that is why I hunt for things I can do and do not focus on what I cannot. I want to have some semblance of a life that isn’t inhibited by that sick person.

It isn’t going away, either way. So I have to cope the best I can with what I have to deal with. But I will tell you this when I try those new CGRP migraine meds and if I am a really good responder … say barely any migraines after… I will not mourn that because migraines are not who I am. They are a thing I deal with.

But I do think as a blogger I have to be careful not to let illness define me. I think about illness and coping when I write. But I do not ruminate on it otherwise. I just cope as best I can like everyone else.

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16 comments

  1. If I were to heal suddenly I wouldn’t know what to do! Not because of my identity, but because of learning to pace myself and not being able to do some stuff that I forget to even want to which means I’ve accepted the pain. So I need to start thinking…. if my pain were gone or I could DO without consequences, what would I do?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It makes me think sometimes when we have had an illness for a very long time how much of that fact get feeded into who we think we are as a person. It is good to think about sometimes, I think. ❤

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    1. I think my identity got tangled up with it because I was so young. So then maybe a decade later… sort of gets mixed up with who you are and what you can do. And then untangles again when you think about it differently as you get older.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t imagine getting a chronic illness as a child. That is such a difficult concept, not to mention just damn sad! I’m sure it IS part of your identity to an extent. How could it not be as your identity is partially formed during these young years. It is VERY interesting to hear your take on untangling yourself from this chronic illness! I’d love to hear more… maybe a future post? What is the best way to support a child’s psyche when I’ll, chronically? What happens in the teen years to adulthood? I’d be fascinated to read about this! Thanks, Nikki. You are an incredible blogger!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A really interesting one. It’s hard because we have to work towards some degree of acceptance, which involves pain becoming part of your identity to some degree perhaps. But I’ve posted before on focusing on the things you can do, not what you can’t, and I definitely think it’s important not to be owned by illness, to realise you’re more than your body or your brain or your health conditions, you’re a whole person with interests and a personality that far outweighs the sickness or pain. Well written, Nikki! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think about this one a lot. Mostly because I read about how docs and therapists think about it. How we can take on ‘sick behaviours’ where who we are is so tangled in our illness… we just sort of give in to it. I can’t do such and such… because of my illness. You just stop Trying. And trying is vital. Nudging our limits is important. And so I think about how interconnected our self-identity can become with illness. It is a tricky one for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a great post, Nikki. I do also wonder if writing about it, means we focus on it too much. I often find myself saying, ‘I am not my pain’. I ‘ve written a post about it too. I don’t like to wallow in my pain, but I do write about it (normally about coping with it rather than the suffering from it point of view) and run support groups for it. But who exactly would I be if I didn’t have this pain that controls so much of my life? I guess it would be a journey of discovery. I’d quite like to go on that journey.

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