Who am I now?
One of the hardest things to face when confronting the reality of chronic illness is the loss of who you once were and the capacities you once had. The truth is you are not the same person. You can’t go on a reckless pub crawl, hike in the Hebrides, or Snapchat your glamorous escapades. The truth is you are too physically depleted to embark on the adventures of the average twenty-something-year-old. The inescapable reality is that you have no idea if you will ever be the person you once were.
This is a fairly glum realisation; in fact, it is one which holds the potential to be soul-destroying. But far beyond the realisation that you are changed, lies an eerie awareness of not knowing who you are now. You may have temporarily disappeared from your own life and the main part you played in it. You don’t regularly see the figures who had before defined your social circle; once gone, there remains very little trace of the former you. It may feel as though your part is no longer played or has become dispensable. People move on with their lives, living their own main parts, and transformative events take place; social circles grow and develop, while you sit in this bitter state of stagnation. Your life is consumed by a sort of involuntary inertia which persists long after the sediments of your past life settle to rock bottom. It is not a lack of motivation or a desire to retreat from your old life which pins you down; it is a physical incapacity to keep up.
These are dark reflections and these thoughts are natural invaders which might creep up when the realisation of loss first sets in. But it is not shameful or a sign of weakness to admit that loss has affected you and your life. It is not shameful to grieve for what you have lost; to grieve for your former self, an entity which might never be recaptured. Grief is a natural human response to loss. I have experienced it, and I know many chronic warriors for whom grief has paid an unexpected visit. Allowing oneself to grieve, in the absence of denial or self-deception, is incredibly difficult, as grief has become a socially intolerable, almost repellant emotion. It is not sexy or tasteful in any way; it makes society unnecessarily uncomfortable, causing them to shift in their chairs as if they were experiencing an unpleasant leg cramp. But this is not your problem, and it certainly isn’t mine. You have the right to grieve and to respond to your loss in whatever way fits you; do not reshape your responses to fit a society which often denies and shies away from confrontation with loss.
What happens after the realisation of huge loss and the dawning of grief?
Now comes the uplifting part. This is not to deny the pain of grief or its enduring nature. But there is a silver lining, if you go hunting for it. In order to capture it, it requires acceptance of the loss of your past self and an acknowledgement that this self may never return. Written on paper, this appears to be a simple feat: Goodbye former self, I don’t need you! This is not easy, and in fact, it is a process which can engender further loss. If you admit to yourself you are not the you of the past, this means being willing to admit this reality to others. Bear with me, the uplifting bit is on its way.
Admission that you have changed, and that you are not physically capable of doing the things you once did, reveals your true allies and solid companions. It highlights, almost like a good litmus test, the former pals who did not value you, but who may have demanded your presence at their latest event: the distracted drinkers who lose interest, the casual clubbers who can’t slow down to chat in a quiet place, the plagued pals who fear that you and your self-acceptance will remind them to confront their own socially-offensive vulnerabilities. More loss. But wait, is this shedding a loss or is it in fact a form of liberating filtration of your relationships, which leaves behind only those which enrich your life and transcend change. You are undergoing a metamorphosis. A transformation beyond your control, which gives to you the power to be surrounded by only those who truly value your existence. This is an unexpected and hidden gift.
The gift which we have not yet acknowledged is that of self-rebuilding. Now that we are no longer the people we once were, who can we be? Instead of focusing solely upon our limitations and the loss we suffer, let’s shift our emphasis towards the discovery of this present self, untainted and beautiful in its newness. It is fresh off the shelf; a metamorphosed soul. You have a fresh perspective and an unwillingness to engage in self-deceit. You have embarked upon a momentous and under-exalted journey towards self-acceptance.
Have you ever dared to say to yourself: your worth as a person has not changed, although your physical capacities have? Be kind to yourself. You have undergone a historic transformation; as with all powerful examples of ruination, you are now, in the aftermath, faced with the opportunity to discover and to re-invent.
So, in answer to that daunting question:
Who am I now?
I would say: I am in the process of discovery.