Posted in after the diagnosis, authenticity, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Integrity, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

You Are Not Your Illness

I’m amazed at how many people following a chronic or life-threatening diagnosis abandon their identity for that of a sick person.  The thing I want you to understand is that this is a component of your life, not who you are.  The disease is something you have, not something you are.

I used to run a program for folks who were HIV+ or had an AIDS diagnosis.  During support group meetings members would say “I’m HIV” referring to their positive status.  One day it dawned on me that they weren’t HIV, they had HIV.  There’s a big difference between the two and if the lens you use to identify yourself focuses on you as the disease you’re literally fighting an uphill battle.

I understand how this shift in thought might be easier for someone who has a chronic illness, because they incorporate the illness and treatment into what needs to become a normal life.  Those with a life-threatening illness often hold on tight to the identity like a “get out of jail free card”.  The trouble is that when you identity as a sick person those around you shift their interactions to deal with the disease and not you as a person.

As someone who has been impacted by an auto-immune disease for over thirty years I understand the struggle of identity.  It’s easy to slip into the category of the sick or fragile one, but that’s not who I am nor was I ever.  My values haven’t changed, my sense of humor hasn’t changed, my hobbies haven’t changed, they all just become more alive as I remain conscious about accentuating who I am, not what I have.

How do you tackle the identity issue?  How do you introduce yourself to others?  How quickly does your illness come up in conversation?  How do you separate who you are from what you have?  Share with us so we can boost our identity quotient and stand strong.


I've lived my life in service to others. I'm focused on mental health and how it impacts our relationships, culture, and society. Through creative expression and narrative I believe we can impact change.

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