How much of your identity revolves around your illness? Around your pain?
How do you describe yourself? If I asked you to describe yourself to me right now, what would you say? Would you include your pain and illness in that description?
When you live with chronic pain, sometimes that pain is all you can think about. When you think of yourself all you can think about is the pain, and how that pain has changed your life. You think about how it impacts your ability to be who you really are – a spouse, a parent, a student, a teacher, an employee, a boss, a human with feelings, and hopes and dreams. You forget that you are so much more than your illness.
Has pain become your identity?
One of my psychology professors also worked as a counselor at a pain clinic. One day during class (Psychology of Personality, I believe), he made a comment about patients who were dealing with chronic pain. They would come in rating their pain a 10. They were obviously in pain and could barely get out of bed when they initially came in. Then they’d come back in after they’ve had a pain pump installed, going on and on about how they felt the best they’ve felt in years, yet when asked how they would rate their pain say they are still at a 4. The professor 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.
You don’t know how good a pain rating of 4 feels until you’ve lived at a 10!
As someone who lives with chronic pain, I see this situation differently. I imagine you do 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, or until I do something that causes it to spike up. Then I stop and think and yep there’s still some pain, but I’m OK, thanks for asking.
While I disagree with this professor’s view of his patients, of those of us living with chronic pain. I agree that sometimes we can take on a “pain identity” and allow the pain we live with to take over our identity. When that happens it can be difficult to remember who we are beyond the pain. To accept that there is more to life than the pain, and not let the pain control every thought and decision.#Spoonie How much of your identity revolves around your illness? Around your pain? Click To Tweet
When we get focused on our illness and pain it can take over our lives. But, we are so much more than our pain. Even with the pain you can still be a great friend, great parent, a great spouse, a great student, a great employee, a great boss, and just a great person. You just may have to do it differently than you did before. 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 will still continue to do the best you can and be the best version of you that you can be. You are still amazing. You are so much more than your pain.You are so much more than your pain and your illness. Don't let those things become your identity. Click To Tweet
It’s time to check in and think about who you are, 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 think about who you really are, and how great that person is. Think about the things you love and the ways you can still do those things.
Don’t base your identity on that perfect person, perfect mom, or perfect spouse you have in your mind. When you get focused on perfection, you are focusing on an ideal that can never be achieved. Even all those “perfect” people you think you see out there have issues, that you aren’t seeing. You are only seeing what they want you to to see.
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 perfection, 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 partner that does my best to do my part in the relationship.
I am a friend who is there when I’m needed.
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 multiple times.
I am a creative person.
I am independent.
I am an adventurous traveler out to see the world.
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. Chronic illness has caused me to adjust how I do things, and what I prioritize. But, it isn’t my focus. Pain may affect my identity, but it is not my identity.
So, Who are you?
- You are more than the broken piece of you
- 10 Ways to keep Chronic Illness from stealing your life
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- 11 Misconceptions of Chronic Illness