Thursday, May 21, 2015

Spoiled Identity

Baycare Presentation 5.19.15 Part 2

While presenting at a break out session for a recent Baycare employee in service day, I asked for a volunteer.

“I am going to ask you a question,” I said. “It’s an easy question. The hard part is that I am going to ask you the same question twenty times. You have to give a different answer each time. Are you up for it? Here is the question. Who are you?”

The volunteer nodded her consent. The questioning began. After each repetition she gave a different answer. “I am Denise, a wife, a mother, a nurse, a daughter, a friend.” Then she was stumped. I prompted her, asking if she played sports or had a hobby. Still, nothing! I thanked her and let her out of the hot seat.

We identify ourselves by what we do and by who we are in relation to others. Chronic illness spoils that identity. We can’t do the things we used to do, things that were a significant part of our identity. We lose jobs, have to work less, can’t keep the house as clean as we would like, and have to give up activities we enjoy. We can’t be who we were in relationship to others. Parts of those relationships remain, but other parts slip away. We have a hard time fulfilling our domestic roles, playing with the kids or grandkids or engaging in activities with a loved one. Our image of ourselves as healthy doers is eroded piece by piece. Our identity is spoiled.

I paused to ask the participants, care coordinators for the Baycare system, if the patients they encounter are ever angry. Everyone in the room nodded yes. These patients are angry because they are grieving for who they used to be. Just like we grieve for someone who has died, we grieve for our spoiled identity and for our hopes and dreams for the future. Who wouldn’t be angry? Anger is one of the stages of grief. Yet no one is there to help us recognize that we are indeed grieving or to help us through the process.

Once patients with chronic illness become aware that they are grieving, they can enter into the process. The process is messy and challenging. But there is healing and hope on the other side. We can spend the rest of our lives in anger and depression or we can move forward to create a new identity.

"The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one [or yourself]; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you want to be the same. Nor would you want to be". Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler.

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