Illness and Identity

Receiving a diagnosis of a chronic illness is life-altering. Knowing that you have symptoms that can be managed, but never fully eradicated, requires serious adjustment.

Considering the multiple adjustments such diagnoses require reminds me of the importance of language. The specific labels that are used to define individuals with chronic illnesses do indeed matter.

When I was first diagnosed with MS, I immersed myself in learning as much as possible about my disease. I looked up all kinds of medical information online. I searched for a very wide range of educational resources and support groups. I remember being taken a back when I came across the name of one particular group, MS’ers.

Even freshly-diagnosed with MS, I resented having my entire identity be synonymous with having a neurological diagnosis. As my advanced education in clinical health psychology progressed, I began to more deeply appreciate the importance of diagnostic labels and self-identify.

I began to appreciate that those who make the healthiest adjustments to their diagnoses view their condition as just one component of who they are. This is in sharp contrast to having your diagnosis serve as the nucleus of your entire life, around which absolutely everything else revolves.

Yes, I am a woman with MS. However, I don’t consider myself an MSer. There is so much more to me than just this diagnosis.

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