In my last little rant, I wrote about a few ideas that can be used to avoid getting stuck in endlessly toxic thinking patterns. That step flows right into this one- re-inventing, re-imagining, re-creating how you think about yourself.
We all have roles in life. Like puzzle pieces, we all connect to each other. Think of a favorite movie, novel or video game- after a while you come across a similar set of characters. You might be the party girl or guy who knows all the best bars and is the life of any gathering. You might be the prankster, always cracking or playing jokes on your family or co workers. You might be the Type A over-achiever, who’s always got something to prove, even if it’s only to yourself. You might be the hard-worked mother, the moody middle child, the artistic dreamer. You might be the spooky loner that the neighborhood watch is talking about. Whether intentionally created or not, everyone has some kind of role to the people around them.
When you have a chronic illness, your roles might change. The party girl might have to hang up the dance shoes, the over-achiever might have to learn to slow down and relax. Usually tough and independent people might have to learn to rely on a network of friends to support them. I was raised with the belief that the best way to live was to always carry my own weight and not be a burden to others. Once my health became unpredictable, one of my biggest struggles (it’s still my biggest struggle) wasn’t just taking care of myself physically, but trying to walk the fine line of being as independent as I could while not making an island of myself where I had no family or friends to help me in an emergency.
This can be the toughest part of living with chronic illness for many reasons; our co-workers, our friends, our family and our roles among them can be huge parts of how we define ourselves, even if we aren’t aware of it. When these roles change, it can easily leave you feeling like you don’t know who you are anymore. You’re eating differently, you’re living differently, you learn to enjoy the things you love in a different way- does it make you a different person? Are you less of a person now? How can you still fit with your job, family and life?
On top of all the conflicting inner feelings that might be bubbling up, there’s the reactions of friends and family, which can range from totally supportive to totally making things worse. When it gets overwhelming, try to a) not take it too personally and b) put yourself in their shoes.
Can you guess what I’m going to say next? Yep, you got it. Change is not a dirty word.
Most of the time, most of our lives we fall into the roles we have and they shift and change as we grow and live our lives. Are you the exact same person you were at age 3? Age 13? Age 30?
Try to remember when you were a child or teenager – didn’t you rebel against your parents or teachers at times? When I was growing up I changed my name at every school I went to, argued constantly with my mother about clothing and makeup and went from being a shy, timid adolescent to a sarcastic high-schooler with an attitude problem and a trail of peeved-off teachers (I’m a smart-mouth, so sue me.) So while it can be an unpleasant transition – it’s not a brand new scary monster that you’ve never seen before.
There can actually be a ton of opportunity in having the chance to re-create your Self. If you’ve always striven to be the very best – at the expense of your sanity or health – then it might do you a world of good to learn to be slower, to enjoy things just as they are instead of as tools to get you to the top. If you’ve always been the party girl/guy- and nothing else, then maybe it’s time to give more of your energy to developing other hobbies.
Try thinking back to when you were a little kid. What activities did you love? Did you draw all the time? Did you write? Did you bang on plastic toy drums? Did you play video games? Did you collect bugs? Even decades later, do you still pause for a second when you hear a great guitar riff, or see an awesome painting, or a really huge dragonfly? Are you a secret bookworm? Why keep those interests in the dark any longer? Bring them out, dust them off and see if they still spark with you!
If you don’t have an old interest to rekindle, do a little fantasizing. Do you gobble up spy shows on television? Do you daydream about having some secret spy skills yourself? While it might be tricky to actually become Jack Bauer, it’s not hard at all to pick up a few cool spy tricks to use at parties. Take a locksmith class- though keep in mind to use those skills for good (jail doesn’t suit anyone).
Always wanted to be Indiana Jones? Well, keep in mind that the character was just as much a scholar as he was a treasure hunter. Try volunteering at a historical museum. Take a tour or do some exploring on your own. Found an abandoned building? Do the research, maybe it was a hospital or secretly a landmark. Maybe you’ll find it’s history is more personal than you first imagined. And hey, it never hurts to learn how to crack a mean whip either.
How about a chef? Take a cooking class and surprise all your friends with a fantastic meal. Take a bartending class and learn to juggle glasses like a pro.
By learning new, fun skills you not only show yourself all the greatness that you are still capable of, but you also get your family and friends to see you in a new light. Don’t be surprised if everyone starts hounding you for invites to your next dinner party, or calls you first when they’ve locked themselves out of their house. With some time, your role will have expanded and become bigger – now instead of “just” a jokester, you can be the funny guy/gal who makes the best drinks on the block, or the best steaks. Instead of “just” an A-type overachiever, now you can be the laid-back friend who knows every great spa in the area.
Meetup.com has groups for every activity imaginable - and if they don’t, it’s a piece of cake to start a group yourself.
“But I like who I am! I don’t want to change anything!” Well, if that’s the thought running through your head right now, I’ll leave you with a quote from the movie Dogma. “Be who you’ve always been. Just be this too, on occasion.” After all, you are a person who will always be growing and changing – a person who happens to have occasional bad days of illness. You are not a walking illness who happens to have good “person” days (though you might feel like that’s the case).