Less Brokenness, More Peace
When illness becomes identity, how do we recover from ourselves?
This question and topic have been on my heart all weekend, after spending a full week in conference sessions about integrative medicine and health. I sat in this one particular session, Avoid the Struggle: Empowering Your Most Complex Patients to Make Sustainable Health Behavior Change, and walked away remembering what felt like a direct message from the facilitator, as both healer and patient. She shared identifiers and ways to recognize and care for patients who feel like the only thing that they have left, the only thing that they own and have control over, is the connection to their illness.
Depression has been a part of my life since I was a young girl. And about five years ago, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and later, anemia. I was scared and angry to have my mid-20’s interrupted by chronic illness with a body that silently attacked itself from the inside out. When I was at an emotional low, my diabetes symptoms would rise, and when those symptoms took me on a mental whirlwind, my depression was there. Always there, all of the time.
My illnesses became familiar companions who evoked hate, love, and fear. I hated the extreme highs and lows and rigorous monitoring of both emotional and physical states. I loved the amount of awareness it brought to my body, giving me the ability to notice the slightest shift in mood, energy levels, and disorientation. I think I was most afraid of who I would have to face without them and even more, how my relationship with myself and others would change.
What would it mean to heal? Would I recognize myself as someone healthy, well, able to fully experience joy? Would I like her? Could I love her?
When you’re so used to feeling pain and experiencing loss and heartbreak and trauma, you start to believe you are that pain, loss, heartbreak, and trauma. It’s a toxic relationship that you become attached to, dangerously dependent upon, and it’s scary to think that you may lose the very part of yourself that has been so close, so comforting even with its psychological turmoil and self-destructive patterns.
I’m witnessing myself breaking through that false, romanticized version of brokenness. I realize that for the very first time, I’m experiencing a sense of inner peace and calm that I’ve never felt in the 29 years of being with this mind and in this body.
I’ve read about it. I’ve even imagined who I might be if I had it.
But it has been such a foreign concept to me that I struggle to articulate how it feels and how it is actively transforming my life. I’ve spent so many hours in my days imagining what peace could look and feel like, that I couldn’t recognize it when it entered my realm of possibility as something that I could access, hold, touch, and even embody.
The truth, for me, is that the process to recovery is messy because our lives and minds are filled with so much baggage from the past and anxiety in the present, that a lot of us haven’t had the energy to invest in the building of what we desire for our future selves.
Future selves that are valued as whole, complex beings wanting to make meaning of all we’ve experienced. Future selves that see illness, in all of its many forms, as something we have rather than something we are or have to be for the rest of our lives. Future selves that can also center hereness and be a witness to what we are slowly cultivating within ourselves, to heal ourselves.
When illness became my identity, I started to recover from my distorted concept of self by uncomfortably shedding old narratives that were no longer of use because their mere presence became a disservice to every wish I ever had for a life of health and wellbeing.
Not perfect. Still in progress. And certainly not absent of conscious work, compassionate support systems and discipline.
But a new way of being in my mind and body, a way that believed in the possibility of less brokenness and more peace.
Pieces of this journal entry were written during silent worship at Homewood Friends Meeting, a Quaker community in Baltimore.