Crash landing my life into a medical sabbatical really fucked up my headspace. Around two years ago I was beginning to realize I didn’t have a choice in accepting that I was sick. My identity as an always on, gets things done, reliable, entrepreneur got replaced by an entirely new self conception as “ill person” in a matter of six months. In August of 2019 I disclosed that I was officially sick. I sold my company and was going on leave.
It wasn’t a pretty adjustment. And I’m probably lying to myself when I say it took months to accept. I hated the new me. I felt weak and out of control. Willpower and muscling through did very little to help an autoimmune disease. If anything that mentality of “working on the problem” made it worse as I needed to rest and let my doctors do the work. I was resistant to change.
I think I’m going through a similar transition now as I did in 2019. I began seeing a new doctor in Colorado in October of 2020 and I made more progress in six months than I did in the previous two years. I’m beginning to face a new identity change as it becomes clear that I won’t be “sick” forever. While autoimmune diseases aren’t like an infection, there is no “cured,” it is beginning to look like I will be healthy enough to live normally. You won’t be able to tell I’ve got anything wrong with me soon.
And I have to admit to myself it’s a mindfuck. The emotional and psychological work I had to do to accept losing my entire identity is happening all over again. Who the hell am I if I’m not sick?
You see for the past two years I got used to explaining to people I was a sick person. I was disabled. I needed accommodations. I couldn’t work in ways I felt I would be reliable. I came accept my identity as someone with physical limits. And I slowly figured out ways to communicate that new reality others who has previously seen me as this abled person.
I guess you could say I was at peace with my situation. The pandemic helped. I know it probably sucked for you but I really enjoyed having a year of my recovery coincide with others having to live the way I did. I know it’s selfish but it helped! I felt less alone.
And yet just as I’m finally feeling like I really got a handle on my new identity it’s not my reality anymore. I’m not going to be a sick person. And while I thought I’d be overjoyed it turns out it’s a little more complex emotionally.
Let’s try a comparison. Imagine you broke your arm. You keep it in a brace and you can’t use it while it’s healing. And then the cast comes off and you are unsure if you can go back to using your arm like you did. You used to move your arm without thinking. You don’t worry about applying pressuring or picking things up before the break. But after it’s scary. You don’t want to set yourself back. You are scared to lift things and scared to apply pressure. I am in that place with myself. I know that the break is healing. The cast is off. But the muscles are atrophied and I’m not sure I trust that everything is knit back together. But the reality is that soon I’ll have the all clear.
But who I am now? I’m not the entrepreneur I once was. That workaholic Julie won’t be coming back. But the disabled sick Julie won’t be with me forever either. And I’m a little scared about it what’s coming. Who am I going to be next?