Why I Had To Break Through My “Sick Identity” Before I Could Start Healing
I’m back from a refreshing solo vacation where I swam in the ocean, read on the beach and meditated under palm trees. It was exactly what I needed, but it almost didn’t happen.
After a severe concussion in 2013, I became dependent on the people around me. I couldn’t bear any stimuli and was holed up at home with the curtains drawn and noise-cancelling headphones on. I had also started medication for depression. In 2014, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I was still experiencing sound and light sensitivity, remnants of a jostled brain.
The cancer diagnosis really threw me. At the young age of 24, I was frustrated that I now had to deal with a massive life hurdle. Predictably, the diagnosis didn’t help my depression. Although I tried to be positive, the surgery and treatment and having to temporarily stop work took its toll on me and my days became about navigating my symptoms. Shortly afterwards, I also received a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
I was trapped in my body. I had to decide between having a shower or making breakfast because my energy levels and the pain didn’t allow me to do both. I remember the extreme exhaustion of not being able to move and yet, not being able to get any decent sleep. My illnesses became a major part of my life, and understandably, a major part of my identity. I felt stuck and no matter what I tried, I just couldn’t seem to break the vicious cycle of diagnosis upon diagnosis, medication and symptoms.
So with that context, of course people who cared about me were worried about me traveling on my own. But over the last year, things have changed for the better. The change started when my therapist pointed out my attachment to my illness.
At the time, I had been seeing her for a couple of years, and we had established a sense of trust. She was aware of the other complexities in my life, in addition to my health challenges. We had also been working on various strategies for me to manage my symptoms, and she introduced me to a more structured practice of meditation and mindfulness. So when she suggested to me that I had created a narrative for myself as a sick person, I was affronted.
I became defensive. “What do you mean I’m attached to my illness? I don’t want to be sick.” It was harsh to hear…