You are not a diagnosis so why let it define you?
Finding out you’re saddled with a chronic condition or a terminal illness is always a shock but you’re not wedded to your diagnosis.
Once the shock wears off, you’re still you, even though you are now adapting to a new reality.
Perhaps you were already living with limitations you couldn’t quite understand. In this case, a diagnosis either confirms what you were aware of and couldn’t articulate yet, or what you already knew.
Naming what ails you is the first step toward being able to take targeted action to manage your condition and live as well as possible. But a diagnosis doesn’t turn you into a pathology, no matter how life-threatening.
My stepmom has Stage IV cancer but she isn’t a tumor and innumerable metastases but a full-fledged human bursting with life and love.
If a cancer patient is who she is when she is at the Institut Curie in Paris, to us she is a fellow human, a wife, a mom, a friend. Her terminal illness is this thing that keeps trying to wrench her away from us, which makes it not just her sworn enemy but ours too. But she isn’t cancer.
Even though cancer frequently stands in her way as chemo treatments are rough and demanding, she refuses to let illness dictate her life.
You are not a diagnosis so why hide behind it?
While there’s comfort in having a commonly understood way to refer to the malfunctions of the mind and body, using them as an excuse isn’t going to help you.
Limitations only have as much power as you give them.
Instead of not doing things because you are sick, you can try and find different ways to do them despite being sick. This is what it means to take into account limitations and make accommodations so you can enjoy a good life and join in with others.
Surprising as it may sound to able-bodied folks who have always enjoyed working limbs, some wheelchair users are athletes. Civilian one can be found competing in the Paralympics. Meanwhile, wounded armed forces personnel have the Warrior Games and the Invictus Games.
What if instead of continuing to mourn aspirations and unfulfilled potential lost to illness you tried to adapt?
Failure of imagination isn’t a pathology and yet it can hold you back far more than any diagnosis ever will.
Self-pity and “woe is me” can hurt and hinder you while action goes a long way toward relieving helplessness and frustration.
Perception is a choice and perception is changeable, even with mental illness.
You are not a diagnosis so why surrender to it?
I lost five years of my life to major depressive disorder as the parasite in my head kept trying to kill me. When it didn’t succeed, it attempted to kill everything else: relationships, marriage, career, finances, identity…
In the face of so much destruction, I got furious and eventually emerged, tallying up casualties, which are many.
But not vocation. Although I painstakingly had to relearn how to do my job, vocation is now how I’m pulling myself out of illness and hardship, one word at a time.
Find what makes your heart beat faster and let it show you the way.
Vocation is what enabled me to come back to Europe and be by my parents’ side so family survived, too. We had a lot of healing to do as they felt I had abandoned them but the love that binds us proved stronger than our illnesses and continues to sustain us.
Depression almost disappeared me to the point of looking into the mirror and not recognizing the person staring back. But although it attempted to erase everything that made me me, it failed. Putting the pieces of a once-eroding self back together and rebuilding a life from scratch is quite the endeavor but it is a source of much joy, too.
Daily epiphanies are the random fireworks that illuminate my path as I keep moving forward against all odds.
Sure, my stepmom is still dying, my kind of depression is chronic, I’m a long way from achieving any semblance of financial security…
But I’m alive, my mind is functional again, and my heart is a disco ball.
Not only is vocation helping me support myself but it has also facilitated life-changing human connections. The airtight lone bubble of angst I was is now a joyful, sunny, and capable depressive, a living contradiction flipping the bird at illness every single day.
Had I surrendered, I’d be dead and would have missed out on all the possibilities imagination and happenstance can conjure up.
You are not a diagnosis so why let it rule your life?
When you let your illness define you and when you hide behind it, you‘re unwittingly perpetuating stigma. Changing the conversation about chronic illness be it physical, mental, or both is contingent on reframing it.
When you choose to focus on the human’s spirit limitless capacity for resilience and reinvention, agency is yours. But when you choose to focus on limitations imposed by illness, you lock yourself into a jail of your own making.
And no, it’s not easy, it’s never easy, it seldom gets any easier, and it takes a lot of determination to manage the many obstacles illness places in front of you.
My stepmom breaks down sometimes, and so do I.
When tears and frustration happen, let them, express them, acknowledge them, and then try and move past them in whatever way you can.
Even a teeny tiny step forward is progress so celebrate it instead of wishing you could do more. There were days when my one achievement was showering, others when collecting the mail outside the front door was a superhuman effort that took everything I had.
Start where you are and cut yourself some slack; we’re all far more capable than we ever give ourselves credit for.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.