How We Handle Sickness, Disease, and Disability Shapes Both Our Identity and Our Outcomes

Will you hold your suffering inside to avoid burdening others? Or will you announce your situation to the world so they’ll understand you more clearly? 

We often find ourselves on one of two sides of extremes. 

Keeping it Private 

If it’s kept secret, you risk feeling alone and unknown forever. If no one knows your suffering, then no one can speak to you with understanding or compassion. 

No one will understand why you don’t socialize or travel or exercise or post on social or invite friends for dinner. You could be misunderstood as antisocial or grumpy or lazy or lacking ambition. 

Making it Public

On the other hand, something tends to happen when we make an announcement. Once you put words to a set of symptoms, you give it a name, you give it legitimacy, and you give it a life of its own

There’s a risk you run by calling yourself “a person who has X”. First off, the diagnosis could be inaccurate. Many conditions share nearly identical symptoms. 

The moment we announce a term for our condition, our brains record the information spoken as factual. Regardless of its accuracy, it becomes the easy explanation we resort to. After we’ve told enough people, we become “the person who has X” in the eyes of our community. 

There comes a great sigh of relief when that which has been hidden or private becomes visible and public. No more energy spent pretending or acting more okay than we actually feel. No more being misunderstood or mislabeled.

The Cost of Relief

However, that relief also has a cost. You have created a collective understanding and a social identity. But what if your symptoms could significantly improve or resolve completely? What if the next treatment or nutritional experiment or surgery could lead to the end of those symptoms? Who would you be then?

We stop seeking answers or solutions to problems we think we’ve already answered. It’s not intentional. But once we think we know what it is and whether or not it can be overcome, the effect is that we stop seeking. 

Rather than being a person who hopes to improve and doesn’t want to impose upon others, we can become the person with X who builds an entire identity upon the limitations of the symptoms named X.

We face complex decisions with complex outcomes. Who will we be?

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