We all define ourselves by who we are and what we do. Our lives revolve around these roles. We are teachers, parents, bankers, lawyers and nurses.
For years I defined myself by what I was. I was a daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend. I also defined myself by what I did. I was a friend, PTA president, Booster Club Member, School Board Member, 4-H Leader, Band Mother, Room Mother and Secretary. I was someone who loved gardening, loved to cook and bake and loved to sew. I loved to take my daughters shopping and I loved to lunch with friends.
What happens when we suddenly lose the ability to be what gives us our identity? What happens when what we did that defined our lives is no longer there? Do we suddenly become something else? Do we move on or do we give up?
When I no longer was able to work, go to the movies with friends, participate in my everyday activities, volunteer or even attend one daughter’s graduation or participate in the planning of my other daughter’s wedding my world came to a stop. I no longer felt I knew who I was. I wasn’t the person that I had been. I didn’t look the same or feel the same. Who was this crazy woman behind the mask that could only eat a few limited food items, could not color her hair or wear her contact lenses any more? My IDENTITY was gone; stolen away from me.
For years I wrestled with this. Who I was hadn’t changed. I was still a daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend. But I was not a Board Member, PTA Member, 4-H Leader or Booster Club Member. I didn’t bake because I couldn’t eat the things I baked. My cooking skills diminished as I had very little to cook. I didn’t sew because it caused anxiety to try to look at shapes and colors and prints. I didn’t lunch with friends or take my daughters shopping because going into stores and malls made me very ill. Because of all these losses I felt I had no identity. I felt I had nothing to offer. I found myself writing poems about this in the middle of the night when I could not sleep. From my book a portion of a poem entitled, “Who Am I?”:
Who Am I? Stripped of all the things that were once me. No more contacts – I now have the weight of my glasses on a face that always hurts.
Who Am I? I am the one whose hair makes her feel old – gray with time. I am the one whose face feels hollow and sunken.
Who Am I? I am the one sitting patiently by waiting for a treatment to bring her back into the real world. I am the one trying to be strong when constantly given more bad to deal with.
Who Am I? I am the one who cries secretly at night – alone in her room. The one who prays to God for the strength to go on.
It has taken a long time to realize that I can still have an identity without the labels of what I can do. I am “me” and no one or no illness can take “me” away.