The first time I was referred to as ‘the sick girl’, my heart sank. Of all the labels I’ve earned over the years, I never anticipated that one.
It was narrow, cold and defining.
This identity popped up after quick judgment of my invisible health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease, by a person who learned about me second-hand from a friend.
When we eventually met, she said, “Oh, you must be the sick girl.”
Time stopped. Was she talking to me? I’ve never considered myself sick. Facing health challenges, yes. The sick girl? No.
Little did I know, that traumatizing moniker buried itself deep within the subconscious of my brain. Layered with the stress of managing ongoing chronic illnesses, the deep-cutting label helped fuel the physical flare-ups of my conditions.
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“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves,” explains Bessel van der Kolk, Medical Director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline, Massachusetts and professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School in his book, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
Sick girl. Sick girl. Sick girl.
I tried to push her down, but she was resurrected about a year after being named. While preparing for an EMDR therapy session to reprocess how to calmly manage the unpredictable nature of autoimmune diseases, and the resulting anxiety, I had to identify my various selves throughout the years.
There’s innocent 2-year-old Angie, giggling and playing.
There’s sweet 8-year-old Angie, awkward and quiet with a shaggy 80s mullet haircut.
There’s teenager Angie, decked out in concert T-shirts, ripped jeans and pure happiness.
There’s professional Angie, growing a business with passion and dedication.
There’s sick Angie, juggling multiple diagnoses while inspiring others to make healthy decisions.
The sick girl showed up at the table, ready to be healed too. I never knew she existed until someone else gave her a label and a therapist asked her to step forward. I’ve always thought of myself as just me, not my past selves, challenges or unwanted labels.
I’ve since learned that ‘me’ is the culmination of all of my life experiences, good and bad. So, let me introduce you to me and the things that make me special.
Hello, my name is Angie.
I’m a writer with more ideas than hours in the day.
I’m a friend you can call on at any time for comforting conversation.
I’m a yogi who focuses on nourishing my mind and body daily.
I’m a homeowner who knows how to swing a hammer.
I’m a neighbor who shares garden-grown tomatoes.
I’m an Iowa girl who kisses cows and cuddles chickens.
I’m a swimmer who feels freedom in the water.
I’m a vegetarian who actually enjoys kale and tofu.
I’m a music-lover standing in the front row of the local rock n’ roll show.
I’m a woman with wild dreams and unbridled ambition.
I’m not just the sick girl. I’m Angie. It’s nice to meet you.
I wrote this essay about six months ago to pitch to a publication that focuses on empowering those in the chronic illness community.
It was declined, so I felt like this story could find a cozy home here.
Do you struggle with identity due to health issues? Let’s chat in the comments below or on social media.
Until next time,
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