What Is Your Identity--Really?

Fibro warrior. Lymie. Spoonie. It's everywhere--and I once labeled myself accordingly.

When you live with chronic illness for so long, it is nearly impossible to not adopt a diagnosis as your identity--it's all you really know, after all. But here's the thing:

When you habitually refer to yourself in terms of illness or symptoms, you inevitably come to adopt that as your identity. 

I know, it starts out innocently enough, just to help identify yourself in a crowd of healthy people and more often a crowd of chronically ill people--to specify just what exactly you live with in the briefest way possible.

But then it grows--and in today's society it is emblazoned on a flag and waved, even in a celebratory form of acceptance.

And there are so many dangers with that.

1 - Illness has become your identity. 

Tell me: Is that what you want to be known and seen as? Not you, but sick you?

And more than that, tell me this: do you want to remain that person? Or do you ideally want to leave that behind and just be you--healthy? And what do you think will happen if you heal and leave behind a diagnosis that you adopted as your identity? Incoming: major identity crisis. I speak from experience.

But there's one more trap that identifying yourself in terms of illness or symptoms leads to:

2 - You will always expect your body to act like the name you've given it.

If you refer to yourself as a spoonie, an illness warrior, a lymie, etc., you will always, always expect your body to behave accordingly. I know that doesn't sound like a big deal, but please hear me on this: your brain is listening to everything you say and think and is responding, behaving, and most of all changing accordingly. Ingrain into your brain that you are a broken, sick person with constant pain and lack of energy and anxiety and you will stay that way--and your brain will only be doing its job: doing what you told it to because that is how the brain works. Did you cause all of those symptoms and bring them on yourself? No. But you are keeping yourself tied to them through negatively identifying language.

There's a bonus warning with identifying yourself that is important to point out:

If you are doing DNRS or healing through any modality, you need to avoid the identifier of "I'm a brain retrainer" or "I am healing" just as much as any diagnosis or symptom you're no longer uttering. Because just as identifying yourself by a diagnosis will only help keep you in that state, identifying yourself as someone in the in-between state will--you guessed it--help keep you in that in-between. And you will expect the unpredictability of an in-between state at all times. Giving yourself names is not something to be done lightly. (More on in-between language while doing DNRS in this post.)

Similarly, "fighter" names like "warrior" imply your life is a battle (and battles aren't conducive to a calm nervous system and well-being). "Survivor" calls to mind past trauma that your brain and body would like to heal and move forward from. And even once you have healed, I advise against "former spoonie" as well for the same reasons.

I am in no way saying to hide or forget your story--your story is pricelessly important--but attaching it to your very name has a way of setting your mind in just such a position of stuck-in-the-past, delicacy, or exaggerated carefulness. And life is where we are and where we are going, not where we were.

I know it is hard to note your language and change what you are used to saying--I'm a fibro warrior, or I'm a spoonie, or I am healing. But there is one key to freedom from all those familiar rooms, and I speak this with love as someone on the other side:

Stop talking about it. I know--I do so deeply know--how illness becomes all you know and then the process of healing becomes all you know. But the goal of it all is health and freedom. So live like it! And match your words to your life. This isn't to say you should lie and fake it, telling everyone around you that you feel fantastic when you don't. But there is so, so much more to life and so much more to think and talk about than how we feel, and those walking the path from illness to health have to take the time to remember and embrace that fact.

The bottom line is this: if you want to leave chronic illness or symptoms behind, you have to leave them behind as part of your identity long before you can physically or emotionally move forward without them.

If you are living with chronic illness or in the process of healing from it, I encourage you to reflect on what you see as your identity and how you describe yourself to others, especially online where labels abound. Analyze what you realize, and think about what you want your identity to be instead. You--just you--is probably the best of all.

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More to see:

My DNRS FAQs | all my DNRS posts | the DNRS website

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional, and nothing I say is to be taken as medical advice. I speak only of my personal experience.

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