Courtesy of the Boston Globe
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Back in June, my friend, Jeromy, sent me an email inquiry.
On to my question: In part these diseases (M.S., Diabetes, and Chronic Trekkyism) become part of your identity. Their consuming nature dictates as much. Do you find it difficult not to have these diseases become your identity? Do you have to intentionally combat the trend of these diseases identifying who you are?
I know with my asthma there is a tendency among some people to identify me according to my disease. Asthma places me in convenient "can and can't do" compartments as well. Because it is also a constant (though perhaps not like diabetes or MS) it easily enters into my psyche, my conversation, and of course plays a part in my decision making processes. I could see that if it was more of an issue it could be consuming.
I told him that it sounded like a blog post, so here I am finally getting around to answering his question.
The question of identity is not an easy one. We humans are an incredible mass of pieces, emotions, experiences, thoughts, and dreams. Can any one part of us overwhelm the rest to become the core of our identity? I don't think so. We are an amalgamation of many seemingly disparate elements that are forged together to make up who we are. To whit, I am:
Shane the male.
Shane the father.
Shane the person born in Billings, Montana.
Shane the geek who was picked on in school.
Shane the white guy.
Shane the procrastinator.
Shane the lover of books.
Shane the diabetic.
Shane the admirer of Star Trek.
Shane the boy whose parents divorced when he was 12.
Shane the person who dreams of saving the world like his heroes.
Shane the guy who can't dance, but would like to.
Shane the person with multiple sclerosis.
Shane the sarcastic.
Shane the guy who likes memorizing digits of pi.
Shane the dude who has never tried alcohol.
And this is only a small fraction of who I am. I don't think my two diseases become my identity any more than any one of these things listed becomes my identity. Most of the time. I have had to make lifestyle adjustments since contracting them, but these are actions I take, not who I am. I admit that when I am feeling depressed, I can feel like these diseases are overwhelming me, that they are who I am. But those moments are not common. Most of the time these diseases are just another brick in the wall of me. I am more than the sum of my parts.
Now, as to other people's perception, I'm not really sure. I doubt there is anyone who has put me in a box labeled 'diabetic' or one labeled 'M.S.' but that is probably just because neither show much outwardly. The MS will eventually, of course, but the diabetes has few outward indicators other than me pricking my finger to check my blood sugar or playing with my insulin pump. Still, I'm sure that there are some people who have put me into some little box based on some aspect of me they have seen. It's only natural. That's how our brains function. We have to fight against it all the time, struggle to see someone for the multi-faceted person they are rather than the surface bits we see. If anyone sees me as just one part of who I am, it is there loss, not mine.
As Whitman said
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)