“But, what do you have? What are you?”
Oh, right. This is the part where I’m supposed to list all the illnesses and diseases and disorders I’ve collected over my lifetime and use their proper medical terms. This is how we measure each other up, to find out where we fall in the Diagnosis Scale. Are we the same? Are we different? If I told you, would you have an immediate recognition of how I feel right now because you’ve got “IT,” too?
Using this shorthand is not meant to be insulting or belittling. It’s meant to cut to the chase and find out where your battle scars are. It’s the fastest and easiest way to get to know someone else sitting in the waiting room to see the doctor or in line at the grocery store reading a magazine about health. It’s the quickest way to find out if you want to keep having a conversation with this person. And if you’ve been struggling for months, years, maybe they know of a good support group or a treatment you haven’t yet tried.
It’s Dating for Sick People.
After years and years, I’ve collected quite a pile. My suitcase is full. Disorder-this and Ailment-that. And when I open up the case and take a look I realize – hey. I don’t really want those.
How validating is it to have a medical professional tell you that what you’ve been feeling, what you’ve been struggling with for so long, what you’ve been trying to tell people about and make them believe is happening to you, that THING that is making you feel like the pits – is real? And it has a name. And here is that name. Blessings, my child, now we know what to call you.
You feel like you’re going crazy, what with all the symptoms that don’t add up and the tests you’ve been taking that come back negative and the unexplained pain and trips to Urgent Care on the weekend. Can’t someone just please tell me what is wrong with me? And if one more doctor pats you on the head and tells you to just go home and get some rest, maybe consider an antidepressant, you’re going to go crazy. Maybe you are crazy. You’re tired of being “ish.”
And then they do. They do finally tell you what’s wrong with you and they give it a name, a diagnosis, and then that’s that. You have IT. Are IT.
And it’s such a relief, right, that it has a name? And you can tell people like Judgy McJudgerson that have doubted you all this time that Name and that you have IT, and it feels better, just a little bit, that they know a doctor told you what it was. That the tests were positive. And sometimes it even has a treatment plan, along with drugs meant to help stop whatever is happening that’s causing you such distress. And sometimes those drugs *do* help and sometimes they only have *a few* side effects and dangit, that’s awesome and you’re thankful.
When you awake with pain or you can’t get out of bed or you miss your kids school event or have to go home because the mall was too crowded and too loud or you get tired just walking down the driveway to get the mail – you remind yourself that it’s ok, because you have IT. People have to understand and you can be easier on yourself, let go of the shame and guilt. You know IT’s name.
So. There I am looking in my suitcase and whoa. There’s a lot in there and they are varied and some are “worse” than others and I don’t want them anymore. I don’t want to use it as a shorthand to allow someone to get to know me faster and easier. I don’t want to own them at all.
I’m going to dis-own them. Maybe one-by-one like petals from a flower. Maybe all at once and watch them swirl down the drain like foamy residue from shampooing.
I don’t want to be called “mentally ill” or “physically ill” ever again. I’m not those things. And neither are you. There’s something so freeing in banning “fibromyalgia” and “lupus” and “bipolar” and and and…..
I’m not a diagnosis or a disease. I’m no one and nothing that can be categorized and typecast with such simple terms.
What I am is healing and getting better and better every day. What I am is a human with some bodily systems that need support. What I am is in love with my body that continues to try and try and has kept me alive for 43+ years. What I am is ecstatic that I keep getting new days and new mornings where the sun comes out and I can tell my Self in the mirror that it’s going to be a great day. And mean it. And every step I take away from the name of a disease that has been hanging on me for years I feel more joy and happiness than I can express. We aren’t meant to be burdened with illness.
What you are is strong and brilliant. You wouldn’t be alive right now if you weren’t. Your body is trying and coping in the best way it can to help you survive. You, too, could try calling yourself by, and talking about yourself in, more-than-illness terms. Don’t let IT own you. Let go of the validating feeling you get from reminding yourself you have IT and instead validate your body in new ways. The guilt and shame you carry for “failing” at doing the things you want to do in your life due to your “Illnesses” isn’t needed. It never was. Being kind and gentle with your body that is STILL ALIVE and working on your behalf? That’s enough. That’s perfect.
Thank you, stomach, for trying your best to digest the food I eat. Thank you, ribs, for holding together for me every day. Thank you, knees, for hanging in there all these years. And thanks, circulatory system and hypothalamus, for heating up and letting me know I need to slow it down a little.
Moving away from calling ourselves by the names of a diagnosis and simply talk about what body systems need help opens up a whole new arena of possibilities. We won’t be pigeonholed into looking at just one set of symptoms to help us heal. We are more willing to look at the entire package of Our Selves and not identify so strongly with the symptoms or labels they are attached to.
Am I saying you should never, ever again tell someone you have arthritis or cancer or an autoimmune disease? No. Especially when you’re in with your doctors who just want to get to the bottom of the issue. Labeling in that sense is useful.
But, ask yourself how many times a day you’re falling back on that as a shortcut and overlooking what the actual body systems are that are asking for help. Instead of saying, “I have an autoimmune disease,” try on “my immune system is asking for support. I’ve decided to help my liver out in a big way by cutting out any extra stressors that make it work harder.”
What’s the difference? In the first example, you are owning a disease. In the second one you are becoming a part of the solution and looking at your challenge as just one part of a whole. And how we talk to and about ourselves is the more important issue, anyway. Whenever you go see a doctor, they use the disease names and diagnosis to categorize you. It’s how their world runs. You aren’t going to get them to refer to your challenges in more holistic terms. It would take them too long.
So, use those labels for when you talk to them and let them use those medical terms with you. Then leave their office and remind yourself what you’re really doing – targeting your entire Self and you are a beautiful, smart human who’s getting more healthy every single day you walk this earth.
Practice Something Good
Practice, right now, switching up your language. Write down the name of your diagnosis and under it right down the body systems that need support for healing. Under that, write out a sentence that pulls it all together so you can tell it to yourself and then others next time someone asks, “What do you have?”
Body Systems: Autonomic Nervous System, Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal Glands
“I’m working on supporting my adrenals and my autonomic nervous system to increase health and wellness.”