Wednesday, March 9, 2011

You Are Not Your Illness

I've been thinking quite a lot lately about illness and disease. Either friends and family that I know have been sick, or old friends on Facebook have been sick. We hear someone say "I have cancer," or "I've been battling the flu for a week," or "I have diabetes." A question that I have is: "Do we identify people by their illnesses?" I think that sometimes this can be the case, and I think it's more than unfortunate. For example, we can be talking to a friend about Bill and ask "How is Bill?" The response is "Oh, Bill has cancer." To some people this may seem like the obvious answer if Bill indeed does have cancer, but what about who Bill is as a person? Bill could be the kindest, gentlest, most giving individual we know, yet the first thing out of our mouths is "Bill has cancer."

And so we come to identify people by their sicknesses or diagnoses. And by doing so I believe that we give more energy to their diseases by constantly talking about them. Wouldn't it be better if instead of talking incesssantly about Bill's cancer, we committed to praying for him or having coffee with him, and then left it at that and saw Bill for who he really is?

You are not your illness.

I am not my illness. Now, I should say that knowing what you're dealing with is a helpful thing, 'cause then you know what you are dealing with and can plan an approach towards healing. But your diagnoses should not become your identity.

For example, I have no less than 3 diagnoses, and they're wordy. According to the doctors I have dysthymic (or chronic) depression with episodes of major depression. I also have mixed anxiety disorder including general anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. And the latest, bi-polar disorder.

That's a mouthful, and can seem quite daunting when you see it on paper or think about it. But the question is: "Am I a depressed and anxious person at my core? Am I defined now by my illness?"

I think so many people, including myself get weighed down, bogged down by negativity and bad news. Hell, it's almost like we are addicted to it. Do you ever watch the 6 o'clock news? The first three stories are almost always about 1) a destructive fire, 2) a fatal car accident, and 3) the high price of gas or something else that pisses the population off. We're addicted to the negative. Those stories would not headline the news if enough people wrote in to the TV station and demanded that they lead off with positive news.

I believe that we need to change our minds to naturally think positively instead of negatively or worst-case scenario. And one of the ways we can do that is by seeing beyond what a person is struggling with and seeing them for who they truly are.

Believe me, there have been times when I've had a little pity party and thought "Why the hell did i have to become depressed and anxious all the time?" But these days I am doing a better job of realizing that they do not define me. Underneath my three diagnoses lies the heart of who I am. I am loving and loveable, I am kind, I am a good friend, I have a huge sense of humour, I am bold, I am a leader. Recently a friend of mine sent me a lovely message and said that I was "glowing." As far as I know I'm not with child, so it must be because the true me is coming out as I tap into it.

Now, does this mean that we should completely ignore our illnesses? No, that's not what I'm saying. Doctors and medication are there for a reason, and I use both. But at the lowest point, when you're feeling so bogged down and even may not want to go on, I encourage you to dig deeper to that true identity which you really are as a loved and loveable and gifted person. Surround yourself with people who see those things in you. If you are spiritually-minded, connect with that Spirit within you.

You are so much more than your illness.