Redefining Your Identity Following an Illness Diagnosis

It’s easy to say that what counts is not the way a person looks like but who they are on the inside. In a perfect world that would be true, but unfortunately many people do judge a book by its cover. Many of us have illnesses that impact our physical body in a way that is noticeable to the outside world. I don’t believe there is anyone that doesn’t have a bit of narcissism and that can play head games with you following an illness diagnosis.

Let’s face it we don’t live in a polite culture. How many times have you witnessed someone pointing, whispering or staring at you because of a physical attribute? Most of us have encountered a woman going through chemo that is wearing a head scarf or staring at a bald woman. Those in wheel chairs or walkers may be given the look of pity, not very empowering.

All too often our identity is wrapped around how we present our physical self to the world. Others may pair that with their interpersonal skills as a means of making their mark on the world. Your illness may impact one or both of these and therefore knock the wind out of your sails. How can you cope with the shift in your physical body?

Start off by having an intimate relationship with your body. It’s important for you to know every inch of your body; this is for medical as well as personal reasons. Begin a dialogue with your body giving it encouragement and thanking it for how it has support you up to this point. The conversation may continue lead to a pact where you contract with you physical body to do everything in your power to preserve the body’s integrity and work toward wellness.

Take an inventory of the things you’re still able to do physically. Focus on your abilities not your challenges. The challenges may be goals you work toward achieving, but it’s your abilities that will provide the self-esteem and self-worth to keep working toward the achieving the challenge. When you acknowledge and utilize your assets instead of focusing on your liabilities you increase your quality of life and inspire creativity to make the most of those assets.

You may want to have conversations with friends and family about how they see you in the roles you hold. What qualities make them want to be around you? How can you capitalize on that energy and maintain healthy and supportive relationships.

Our identities do change over time. They seem to shift quickly following a chronic or life-threatening illness diagnosis. Our culture fuels the fire for you to focus on the inner victim, but that identity is not supportive of your journey to wellness. Understand that you are not your illness. The illness is something you have; not something you are!