Posts Tagged ‘non-productive’

Do You Have an Identity Crisis?

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Many of the people I work with have told me that besides taking away some–or many-of the abilities they had when they were healthy, and besides bringing unpleasant and painful symptoms into their lives, their chronic illness caused them to question who they are.

Before their diagnosis, they saw themselves as competent, active, productive, and engaged partners, spouses, parents, and friends. Then they become ill and lots of things changed. They couldn’t do all the things they formerly could, and they often become dependent on others. Also, they sometimes grieved for the person they no longer were and wondered, sometimes for a long time, who the person was that they became.

If any of what I’ve described also applies to you, the first thing I will say is my mantra for everyone with a chronic illness: give yourself LOTS of compassion – compassion for yourself for any grief you have for the person you no longer are, as well as compassion for all the difficulties that having a chronic illness has brought into your life.

Here’s some information that may surprise you: there is another group of people who often go through identity crises when their lives change. I learned from a prominent chronic pain doctor, who has a revolutionary method for treating certain kinds of chronic pain, that many of his patients resist getting well. They resist because they have gotten used to, and have identified with, being a person with chronic pain. This doctor has found that his patients usually need lots of counseling or therapy in addition to the treatments he gives them.

From the stories that doctor told about his patients, it’s clear to me that people have a hard time, i.e., an identity crisis, when their life circumstances and their roles change. But I’ve learned, both from my own life and from working with my clients, that our true identity goes much deeper than our being healthy or sick, being “productive” or disabled (I put quotes around the word productive because I think it’s a quality that is often overrated), or being self sufficient or dependent on others.

But changes in our lives and circumstances, such as having a chronic illness, give us an opportunity to examine our identity that we otherwise wouldn’t have. For example, we often discover more compassion for others within us than we realized was there. We may discover that the things that are important to us are different from what we thought they were.

I could say a lot more about the identity crisis that many go through when they have a chronic illness, but for now I’ll close by saying that I would love to get your thoughts and experiences about any self-identity struggles and changes you’ve had since you’ve had a chronic illness. If you go to share your self identity thoughts, I will include your comments in later post about this topic.