How Do You Define Yourself? (Final)

OK, here’s where the rubber meets the road. You’ve got my background and why I feel a need to define myself, and you’ve got all the circumstances I don’t want to define me. But lately  God has been almost literally bopping me on the head with a bat, insisting that it’s time to think and pray and do something to redefine myself and set my course for the rest of my life.

The first time was my first visit ever to a Chronic Pain Support Group. Better late than never, right? Everyone had known each other for years (or so it seemed). There were two other newbies besides me, and we all introduced ourselves and were greeted warmly before the guest speaker started.  Afterwards everyone stayed and talked for a while, and it quickly became clear that this wasn’t a misery loves company group of people. One woman identified herself as “the political one”, and I could 100% see myself spending time with her, educating the public, making calls, and sending emails about laws that need to be passed to protect hard-working people from some of the experiences I suffered. Another woman had suffered with Fibromyalgia for decades before being diagnosed, and now nearly 50% of her extended family has been diagnosed.  Her passion is early detection of the disease, and identification of those at risk. This is a powerful, positive group of people who have much loftier health goals than just “making it through each day”, which has been my only goal for a really long time.

Then I attended my usual Bariatric Surgery Support Group. (I had a gastric sleeve last August, hoping weight loss would help my low back pain – no luck so far). Our official topic for the day was Relationships, but we ended up talking about the frustration of how our culture defines and discriminates overweight people, and that it often continues even after the weight is lost. Then what should pop out of my mouth?  “Yes, our culture has some huge flaws. But the place to start making changes is how we define ourselves. How did we introduce ourselves today? By telling our first names, what surgery we’d had, and how many pounds we’d lost. We have to see ourselves as more than numbers on a scale or the size on a tag before we can expect anyone else to do so!” Yep, my filter is apparently permanently set in the Off position.

Then I went to see Stephen King speak (totally worth the incredible pain that night and the two days of bedrest afterwards!!) and the first thing he said was that he was actually three different people: the guy who took out the trash and picked up the dog poop, the guy who wrote all this crazy stuff and never knew how his books were going to end ahead of time, and the person brave enough to stand in front of a crowd of 2,400 people and talk.

The final straw was finishing a book by Lisa Wingate – part of the Moses Lake series. Yes, it’s romance, not literary fiction, but the clear theme of the book was defining oneself. So that’s what I’m up to now. I’m gathering all these scattered aspects of myself and deciding who I’m going to be for the rest of my life. And it’s kind of exciting! How about you? How do you define yourself and how has that changed over your lifetime? Does your definition need a closer inspection?

How Do You Define Yourself? Part II

Sorry for the long back story dump yesterday, but I wanted to illustrate how clearly defined my identity was (especially to myself) until I was forty-five. That Spring I had my third and fourth cervical spine surgeries. They left me with a severely limited range of motion and constant moderately severe pain – even with muscle relaxers and narcotic pain medications. I couldn’t return to work – any kind of work. If I spent more than thirty minutes sitting, standing, or walking during the course of a day I’d pay for it with horrific pain for the rest of the day, a sleepless night, and at least one full day in bed recovering.

I wasn’t a nurse, a problem-solver, or a breadwinner. I spent every clear-minded moment fighting to get the short-term, then long-term disability benefits I’d paid an insurance company premiums on my entire adult life. One of the many things I learned was that according to federal law no company has to pay anyone longer than two years, so matter how sick they are or how much documented proof of physical disability they have. And it often takes longer than two years to even get a disability hearing, let alone a ruling. We were in such dire financial straits I couldn’t have afforded to put gas in a car to go visit a friend or go to church even if I’d had a car available (which I didn’t). When my application for disability was denied I knew that we’d soon be bankrupt and homeless, and that I’d never be more than a physical and financial burden to my family for the rest of my life. I attempted suicide.

I came out the other side of that deep, dark ocean of depression, but not without so many medical bills that bankruptcy was sooner rather than later. There was already a date set for the auction of our home on the courthouse steps when we finally qualified for a program to help us keep our home. We qualified for food stamps, and I began the long road of applying for disability a second time. I’m still waiting for a hearing date. It could be a year or more away and they are only required to give me 20 days notice. If we move out of the county I’d have to start from scratch.

UGH, another long post. I guess there will be a Part III tomorrow, because I’m still not at the positive stuff. At least I’ve explained things that are part of my life but I will not let define me: pain, isolation, shame, depression, bankruptcy, disability, or homelessness. Positive stuff tomorrow, I swear!

How Do You Define Yourself? Part I

I had a very clear definition of who I was from a very young age.  I was told I was “smart” and “pretty”. I grew up in a rural area, so I could tell people who my parents and grandparents were and they knew all they needed to know about me. But then I needed glasses, and my grandmother insisted my short, baby-fine hair needed a perm. Since I was going through that gangly stage (which lasted way too long in my case) and my parents got divorced before any of my friends’ parents did I just hung onto “smart” for as long as I could, and let all the other insecurities build.

I made some new friends in Junior High, thankfully. I didn’t find out until years later that a “mean girl” in the worst possible sense had put a lot of time and effort into alienating me from my childhood friends. But the friends I made in Junior High hung with me into High School, when I finally got contacts. It certainly didn’t put me back in the “pretty” category, but I could pass for “smart and kinda cute” on a good day. I threw myself into any activity that would look good on a scholarship application and didn’t require any actual skill or coordination, because I knew early on that I had no marketable skills and no money for a college education.

I graduated 6th in a class of 600, and got a four-year full-ride scholarship to the University of Kentucky College of Nursing. There I was neither smart nor pretty, but just a name on the roster. A name that was actually misspelled on my diploma, which I had to pay to get fixed. That had to wait until my third or fourth paycheck as a nurse, which was how I defined myself for a couple of decades.

That and Michael’s wife, Aaron’s mom, then Jack’s mom. Then my youngest has his own bullying experience, after which he changed schools and wanted to be called John, his legal name, which he goes by to this day. Is it wrong that I still want to find the boy who bullied him and made his life miserable (with the full knowledge of the Holy Spirit School teacher, counselor, and principal) for tainting the nickname my son used for almost the first decade of his life? I could slowly cut out his tongue with a smile on my face, but it would be pointless since he’s probably bullied so many other people since then he doesn’t even remember my son. He’ll be arrested one day for raping an unconscious college girl and his parents will pretend to be shocked.

Long post, so wait for Part II tomorrow.

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