Saturday, November 7, 2015

What is a Cassie?

<---- I stumbled across this on Pinterest the other day.  It rings true, but is definitely an over-simplification.  Identity is an extremely complicated creature, even more so when you throw chronic illness into the mix.

Imagine your identity as a building.  The foundation is made of some very solid personality traits that will probably never go anywhere. You spend your life carefully picking out just the right bricks to build the walls of your building.  When you get the walls done, you can sometimes remodel the inside, or paint the outside or something.  You end up with a strong standing structure that you're pretty happy with.

Big Sickness is a wrecking ball.  It knocks your entire building down and then delivers a pallet of cheap, ugly, cinderblock made of Sick and Tired and Weakness and Wheezy and so on.  You have to have a building.  So you start to rebuild with the materials you have.  It's not ideal, but you have to start somewhere.  Eventually, you can go out and get better bricks.  Maybe some of the old ones have survived the wreckage and can be used again.  It takes time to rebuild.

The truth is, everyone is constantly changing their buildings - throwing out old bricks and replacing them with new ones.  And in many ways having to start over can be a good thing - there are bad bricks that I can leave out of my building as I start erecting new walls.  I like to think I will be able to find most of my good bricks in the dust - and if not, I'm sure I can find fresh new ones to replace them.

I don't want to be defined by my illness.  Yes, it's a big part of who I am, and how I got to be this way. And right now I can't do much of anything other than be sick. But I don't want it to be the big eclipsing trait that people associate with me.

Sometimes talking about my illness feels very much like coming out. Like it or not, telling people about my health problems often colors how they think of me or how they treat me.  When I'm actively sick, like now, it's important to let people know that I have major limitations, but there's always a fear that they will continue to treat me as weak and incapable even when I'm feeling better. I work hard to not be limited by my illness (sometimes maybe I push myself too hard).

A final note about identity: I'm reading How To Be Sick  by Toni Bernhard - it takes buddhist philosophy and practices and applies it specifically to the life of the chronically ill.  Anyway, relevant to this post is the concept of no-self; that there is no set, permanent Self and that identity is fluid from second to second.  It's a concept that I'm finding some comfort it.

I also want to share these paragraphs:

She goes on to explore the question of identity and explain how she regularly asks herself "Who am I?"  That's all very good, but what resonated most with me is "there is sickness here, but I am not sick."  That has become a kind of mantra for me since I read it and it has definitely made the identity struggle easier.

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