(this Sunday Inspiration post is brought to you by one of my Psychology professors, keep reading...)
How much of your identity revolves around your illness? Around your pain?
If I asked you to describe yourself to me, what would you say? Think about that real quick, and maybe even write down what your response would be.
It’s easy when you live in chronic pain to get stuck in a mode where that’s all you think about. Where when you think of yourself all you can think about is the pain, of how that pain has changed your life. How it impacts your ability to be who you are, to be the student, the spouse, the parent, the employee, or the boss that you could be without the pain.
I posted on my Facebook page a little while ago, about something one of my Psych profs said. He works as a counselor at a pain clinic and commented about how patients who were dealing with chronic back (or whatever) pain at a 10 and couldn’t hardly get out of bed come in after they’ve had a pain pump installed. They go on and on about how they feel the best they’ve felt in years, yet when asked how they would rate their pain say they are still at a 4. He didn’t get this and made it clear that in his opinion they were obviously free of pain but had developed a “pain identity” where they couldn’t imagine life without pain, so despite being pain-free they still reported a 4. Now, I see this situation a LOT differently since I live with chronic pain. I imagine you may as well. What I see is that after living life at a 10 for any length of time, a 4 feels really damn good. I can laugh and dance and play at a 4. I can ignore the pain at a 4 and not even think about it, until I’m asked about it. Then I stop and think and yep there’s still some pain, but I’m ok, thanks for asking.
While I disagree with his premise, I do get what he was saying and I agree that sometimes we can take on a “pain identity” and allow that facet of our lives to take over our identity. When that happens it can be really difficult to think of our identity beyond the pain. To accept that there is more to life than the pain, and not let the pain control every thought and decision.
When we get focused on our illness and pain it can take over our lives. But, if we stop and really think about it we are so much more than our pain. Even with the pain you can still be a great parent, a great spouse, a great student, and a great employee. You just may have to do it differently than you did before. No, maybe you won’t be the one doing every single chore around the house anymore and doing everything for everyone. You won’t be the employee that works 60 hours a week and goes out of your way to show how awesome you are. But, you are still great. You are so much more than your pain.
It’s time to check in and think about who you are a little deeper to consider how much more there is to your life than just pain. Let go of the ideal image of who you think you should be and stop and think about who you really are. Don’t do the comparison thing where you base your identity on that perfect person, perfect mom, or perfect spouse you have in your mind. When you get focused on perfection all you can ever do is feel depressed and upset at yourself for not meeting an ideal that isn’t even real. There is so much more to you than pain or perfection. There is a happy medium. A place where you look at yourself and value yourself for who you are. Stop beating yourself up because you can’t attain some false view of perception, and stop beating yourself up because you are suffering from an illness you didn’t create and can’t control. It’s time to accept yourself for who you are, for the great person you are beyond the pain and without perfection.
Who am I?
I am a student who often gets really good grades, but sometimes I don’t and that’s ok. I’m a wife that doesn’t do nearly as much as I’d like to around the house, but luckily I have a husband that is mostly willing to pick up the slack. I am a wife that can’t be there for my husband in all the ways I’d love to be, but I do the best I can. I am a daughter who loves her parents very much even if I can’t spend as much time with them as I’d like. I am an entrepreneur that has done amazing things and I will again. I am a writer that has been published and I will again. I happen to suffer from a chronic illness that impacts my life and has taught me the importance of pacing, of asking for help, and of knowing my limits. I don’t always live within my limits. I am creative and even if I can’t paint I can find ways to be creative. There are many facets to my life, and yes chronic illness has affected them all but it hasn’t taken those things away from me. It has just made me adjust how I approach each of them, and how I prioritize. Pain may affect my identity, but it is not my identity.
So, Who are you?