Chronic illness is part of me, and I wish it wasn’t so much. I wonder if the same is true for you. When you think about who you are, is “person with diabetes” near the top of the list? How has diabetes changed you? Who would you be without it?
Some people don’t like to think about such questions. Our condition might improve, but it is probably not going away, so why waste time imagining the impossible? But I think considering who we would like to be can help us deal with the lives we have now.
You were someone before you had diabetes. Now that you have diabetes, is that person gone? Who was he or she, and how has he or she changed?
For people diagnosed as children, diabetes can become a core part of their identity. In her poem, “Partial Definition,” about a four-year-old’s diabetes, J. Davis Harte wrote,
It became her before
She became herself.
I think some of that identity takeover happens to adults, too. I was diagnosed with MS as an adult, and I wonder how much of my identity my illness takes up. How much of the original me is left, and do I miss him? I wonder who I would be and what life would be like without illness and disability.
Illness changes people in good ways and hard ways. I asked here in 2011 “What have you learned from diabetes?” Beth said, “I learned that I need to focus my energy, my time, and my life wisely.” Mark noted, “I have learned that I am unique. What works for someone else may not work for me. I have to be in charge of my own health.”
And Natalie wrote, “I learned I’m not immortal and that I do have to pay attention.” The learnings Beth, Mark, and Natalie reported are helping them in life.
Other people with chronic illness report learning things like accepting help and not trying to go it alone. They might learn to accept the world more and resist it less. They learn how to take responsibility for themselves.
I’ve had those changes, and they feel good to me. I don’t want to lose them. I don’t want to go back to thinking I’m immortal. I don’t miss my former driven, career-focused, change-the-world self. I like the more relaxed self I’ve become.
But it still feels like I’ve lost something important. I’m so wrapped up in the world of illness and disability that it’s hard to remember the freedom I had before. I look at people who are disabled, sick, or dying as “my people.” It’s hard to remember what it’s like to be well.
I wonder who I would be without that identity of “person with illness.” Who would you be without diabetes? How would you be different, and how would your life be different?
Think about it. Besides being able to eat what you want, whenever you want, what else would change? Would some attitudes, or the way you see the future, or your sense of what’s important in life be different? Use your imagination. More might change than you realize. But how would you feel about that?
Editor and spiritual advisor Eileen Lighthawk says we have a core self, a true self, who is beyond health and illness. (I think she stole that from Buddha or Jesus or someone.) Your true self may not have diabetes. But who is he or she? I guess that’s for you to find out and share with the world.