After writing about the loss of identity that I experienced with chronic illness, I wanted to give some suggestions for rediscovering one’s sense of self. Most of the recommendations are time-intensive and arduous — like finding a good therapist, practicing mindfulness, and learning about Buddhist psychology — but there’s one little gem that brought me rewards far greater than it’s $15 price tag.
It’s called Strengths Finder 2.0and is marketed as career guidance, but that’s beside the point. It’s a book, but it’s mostly a personality quiz that you access online using a code in the book. As the title indicates, the quiz results focus on a person’s unique strengths, something that I had trouble doing after years of migraine and depression. Instead of reminding me of the weaknesses I’d spent years dwelling on, the quiz refocused my attention on my strengths, which was invaluable in regaining a sense of my true self.
I took the Strengths Finder quiz two years ago, when I was too sick to put the findings into any practical use. I still haven’t applied them directly to my percolating career goals, but I have benefited enormously from the reminder of my core characteristics, which remain untouched by chronic migraine. The peace of mind of remembering who I am was well worth $15.
“Because of my illness, my faults are in plain view. It’s simply too hard to hide that I’m selfish with my time, can be terribly insecure about the most bizarre things, and have great intentions with little follow-through.”
This excerpt from Friends, Family & Illness, a January 2007 post, hit me hard when I re-read it. I stand by the assertion that my faults are in plain view because chronic illness takes all the energy that might otherwise go toward hiding them. What I take issue with is the list of my “faults.” These are not faults, nor are they inherent to being me. They are all the factors of having debilitating chronic migraine.
Six-and-a-half years ago, migraine had completely obscured my sense of self. What I called selfish was me desperately trying to take care of myself and reduce the ravage of migraine on my life. Insecurity about bizarre things? That was keeping the pretense of health when I was terribly ill. Not following through? Following through on promises to others is hard to do when you’re so sick that getting to the bathroom and feeding yourself are your main priorities in a day.
My health had been in steady decline for, oh, 20 years before I wrote that original post and in free fall for at least five. I was a few months from adding constant, severe nausea to my list of symptoms. I hadn’t yet reached my worst, most debilitating years of migraine, but they weren’t far away.
At the time, I was aware that I was floundering in search of my identity, which I thought was buried under migraine. Now I see that I was trying so hard to retain a semblance of self that didn’t include migraine that I perceived myself as someone I wasn’t, nor had ever been. I was trying so hard to pretend I was normal despite the constant seismic activity in my body that I completely lost sight of who I was.
Identity loss. Now that’s an aspect of chronic migraine that doesn’t even make the other migraine symptoms lists, but it caused as much upheaval as the pain and nausea ever did.
Watching the crowd at the music festival bounce in unison, seeing fans passed from hand to hand, I knew the crowd was infected by the intense energy of Gogol Bordello. I wished I felt good enough to join in.
“You’re the kind of person that would be right in the middle of it” was Hart’s bittersweet reply when I told him this. Tears pricked in my eyes. I had to wonder: If I’m not up to being part of the crowd, am I really that kind of person?
The thought has haunted me since Saturday. I have to think that my fundamental nature hasn’t changed. I’m positive that if I felt OK that night — and Saturday was a particularly bad day — I would have been in the middle of the crowd.
Thinking and rethinking the situation all weekend, I concluded that I’m not that kind of person anymore. Today I’m reconsidering my position.
I danced with some guy at Vegoose last year and noodle danced until 4 a.m. the year before. I danced at a show earlier this summer even though the floor was so sloped I was afraid I’d tumble to the stage. I’m dancing in my chair as I write this.
I still have my spunk. I am the kind of person who will celebrate with the crowd. I have no doubt.
This isn’t the first time migraine and chronic daily headache have caused me to question my very self. What a relief to look deep and see core traits unchanged. And, as cliched as this is, having a chronic illness has made me appreciate who I am and the time I have.