Thursday, August 4, 2011

Identity: Am I Defined by my Spouse’s Illnesses?

We go through life trying to define who we are, constantly tweaking and perfecting to make ourselves a better person. But what happens when those parameters become altered? What happens when life throws you that curve ball, when the unthinkable situation knocks on the door?

I had a leisurely breakfast today with a friend and as usual the subjects we discussed just floated freely. There is never a lull in our conversation! So many times we have gotten together to catch up and have surprised ourselves on how many twists and turns the conversations will take. Today’s was no different but it kept focusing on Identity, better yet, how does one keep their identity when they are a caregiver? This became our major topic and one we discussed for two plus hours. Nothing was solved in those two hours but it gave me many thoughts to ponder.

I have strived to become someone that I am proud of and someone that I hope is growing and changing daily. When my husband’s diagnosis came in, life just seemed to stop, nothing seemed real and the future seemed so bleak. It all was so unfair and the thought of moving on seemed unbearable and unthinkable. We were both lost in our grief. How does one move on when their whole world is collapsing around them? My husband, my friend received a terrible diagnosis and I found that it seemed easier for me to totally focus on him and only him, just letting the rest of life pass me by. Days, weeks and months transpired and eventually we both began to cope, some days being more difficult than others, for sure. Thankfully life is resilient and the possibility for growth began to reappear. Believe me, this is not an easy process.

Now I wonder, how do I hold on to my own identity? Who makes me the person that I am and want to be? No one can do it for me; I have to be the one to fight for MY own survival. I have to be ready to accept that and be willing to move on and stay focused. I will survive this and I will come out a stronger person because of it. I didn’t ask for this to happen but I need to learn from this situation and grow.

“Significant changes in life can push you to begin to lose your identity. Loneliness, disconnectedness, depression, and a loss of self may begin to work on your psyche. During this time it is imperative for you to grasp at opportunities to maintain your identity and ward off the isolation that you can feel when life has completely changed,” states Corine Fiore in her blog: Her blog, on parenting, surely applies to any type of change we may be dealing with.

After a few months of floundering and feeling sorry for myself I realized I just couldn’t keep that up. I wasn’t being fair to my husband, my family, my friends and it surely I wasn’t being fair to me! I searched for a support group, one that would understand my situation.

Where is the happy medium in keeping me as a functioning supportive individual? What must I do to not lose myself completely in his illnesses? This fight to maintain ME must be established now, before I get lost in the overwhelmingness of it all.

Many people I know seem to take on their loved one’s illness and have it encompass their own life so completely. It is as if their lives have been forced to change with the current diagnosis. Am I now defined by the illness of my spouse? “Oh that’s Jane; her husband has Parkinson’s and Lymphoma.” Has this now become my existence? Is it time that I put my life on hold and start learning everything I can about these senseless diseases? Is it time for me to start marching for the causes? Is it time for me to attend every meeting and every support group? Is it time for me to give up on me? It may sound heartless; but I am just trying to figure it out this new role. Does my identity have to change because of his illnesses? It might be easy for me to say this because at this moment Gary is not incapacitated with his illnesses. He continues to work full time and maintain a productive life. The question is; will I have to change who I am when the Parkinson’s gets worse or the cancer returns?

Finding a good support group and or a good friend that is going through similar circumstances can really help in maintaining one's focus. Working, whether it is at home or in an office, just doing something for me; church, book clubs, therapists, exercise…the list could go on and on. There are many avenues that I can draw on to ensure I stay focused on keeping my identity and staying strong through difficult times.

I will continue to be supportive and choosing to be knowledgeable of all that comes our way. I am willingly standing by his side for his medical appointments and treatments. I am cherishing and celebrating his victories and will cry with him with his relapses occur. I am his cheerleader, his friend and his confidant. I chose to do for him and for myself, and not because it has become my role.

I choose to look towards the future with my eyes wide open knowing that life could change in a moment's notice. I choose to be prepared and in doing so, know that I am an individual who needs have a life of quality and a life that may be with or without my spouse. In keeping my identity I must maintain a productive life. The question is; will I have to change who I am when the Parkinson’s gets worse or the cancer returns, or will I have established a plan that will work on seeing me through those difficult times?