on identity

indentity 1. teachingidentity 2. headache

The other morning I spent hours on the phone talking to health care providers, union reps, and health insurance reps. As I worked my way through an intimidating medical to-do list, I was feeling like a professional patient. The morning was productive, with a healthy balance of good and bad news, and I had many burning questions answered. But instead of feeling cushioned by my privileged access to all of these supports, or patting myself on the back for getting shit done, I broke down into a dramatic puddle of self-pity.

This is my life now, I thought. I spend all day on the phone talking to doctors and dentists and chiropractors and union reps and insurance companies because I am sick.

I am no longer a music teacher, and English teacher, a singer, a piano player, or a partier, because I am sick.

This does not even feel like summer vacation, because all I can think about is how and when I’ll be able to return to work, because I am sick.

I was extra resentful of this time spent on the phone, because I was feeling relatively good in the pain department.

Even my good days are wasted on this stupid illness. When will I just get to be me, and not the me who is sick, whose life is in transition, and who is so uncertain of the future?

I was, perhaps, more of a professional catastrophizer than a professional patient in this moment, and it felt as if I were grieving the loss of so many parts of my identity.

Of course, a dramatic puddle of self-pity is not something one should stay in too long, or your fingers and toes will start to get wrinkly, so in an attempt to hear something other than my own negativity, I texted my bestie to say that I was feeling low. Not surprisingly, she knew just what to say. Her response was in tune with my mother’s most recent advice, and it went like this:

“Whatever happens, you can find ways to use your brilliance and skills. It might look different than what you’ve planned, but you won’t lose those parts of you! You are so courageous and strong. You are so much more than your illness. Don’t forget that.”

After reading this text over and over until I believed it, I tucked it away for future moments when I am feeling more like a sick-person-I-don’t-recognize than myself. Then I picked myself up, blew my nose, pet the cats, and made some lunch. How did you get so wise, bestie?

Fellow migraineurs and chronic pain survivors, what bits of wisdom do you turn to in moments of grieving or pain?


  1. Anonymous · · Reply

    Very wise advice. There’s a hockey analogy for your situation – “play the game you’re in”

  2. Laurie Brown · · Reply

    I’m not anonymous — I’m me!

  3. For me the bit of wisdom that comes to mind: “You’ve had it worse.”

    1. But I also have to remind myself that even though in some regards I’ve “had it worse, ” I should not underestimate the gravity of my current situation.

  4. […] this crap is still non-linear. Set-backs and losses still mess with my sense of self. It’s still hard to let go of past abilities. And I’m still frustrated by the added […]

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