When Transformation Leaves You Unable to Recognize Yourself

annie-spratt-199474-unsplashTransformation is usually seen as a good thing. But what happens when the transformational process leaves you unable to recognize your new self? Chronic illness can be a lot like that.

Take the butterfly, for instance. It’s one of the most common symbols for the transformation process and for spiritual rebirths and awakenings.

When I went through a major depressive episode 10 years ago, I was attracted to the imagery of the butterfly. I collected pictures of them. I painted them. Friends and family sent me cards and pictures of butterflies. I was enamored by the whole process of this little caterpillar basically turning to “mush” in a chrysalis and then emerging as something new and beautiful. I was waiting to transform and become something new. Something freer. Except I forgot one major detail…

If you were to show that butterfly itself in a mirror, it wouldn’t even recognize what it has become. It would be looking for its caterpillar self – not its butterfly self. This new creature would not understand what it is now…and why it is what it is now.

Isn’t that what most of us go through with chronic illnesses? We look for who we used to be? The new us is not always recognizable. Our interests and perspectives change. Our hobbies, our friends and support systems go through a refining process.

I keep looking for the me I once was. I was an extrovert. I always liked talking to people and making new friends wherever I went. I loved being out and about. The new me shies away from people and crowds because of anxiety or awkward conversations that inevitably lead me to reveal my illness to people — and most people don’t really want to talk about that.

The old me used to work and travel. The new me goes to endless doctor appointments. My new bestie is Netflix.  Some days I am not even able to leave the house due to Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. Anything can make me sick.  And some weeks I am unable to be in a grocery store for more than 10 minutes because of anxiety. This is the new me and I barely recognize myself. Everyday I look for that caterpillar in the mirror, but he’s nowhere to be found.

It’s okay to not know who you are anymore. It’s okay to keep searching and keep learning about your new self and most importantly, it’s okay not to like it. Transformation is not always an easy process. Sometimes you won’t recognize yourself. You adjust to a new normal and that normal may change week to week and month to month.

I still love butterflies. I love learning about them. And even though some days are unbearably hard, I still try to learn about this new me that I have become.

Living With Pride

MIGHTYQUOTE

“We are as diverse as the rainbows that fill the sky.”

To celebrate Pride Month in June, we wanted to highlight the unique experiences of the members of our chronic illness community who are also members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Today’s email is by Stephen Fratello, a Mighty contributor who lives with chronic conditions including mast cell activation syndrome, anxiety and depression. 

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Hi everyone,

It can be tough living with a chronic illness, and one decision we all face is who to “come out” to about our health challenges. I know about coming out because I’m gay. I also live with chronic illnesses.

Sometimes it can feel like I am continually having to decide how to reveal my health challenges and when. I try to determine if the person is a safe person to open up to. It can provoke a lot of anxiety and questions. Things like, “Will I be judged and rejected?” “Can I handle being abandoned for something that is beyond my control?” “Will people understand me?”

While I am long past any insecurities about my sexuality, it is not so simple when it comes to my diagnoses. Having depression and anxiety can carry a lot of stigma. Having a physical illness that is not fully understood in the medical field, as well as in society as a whole, can be really frustrating. It creates a lot of obstacles and it takes a deliberate choice to live authentically and unashamed.

I was inspired by singer Mariah Carey, who came out this past year about her struggle with bipolar II disorder. She once wrote the following in the liner notes of her CD, “Rainbow”:

In a perfect world,
Human beings would co-exist,
Harmoniously, like a rainbow,
A multitude of colors,
Each layer vibrant and clear by itself,
But in unison…
Boundless, breathtaking, celestial…

I just want to reach out and encourage everyone in the LGBT community to share their stories of illness, just as we come together to share our stories about who we are. We are as diverse as the rainbows that fill the sky. We all have a unique story to tell and in doing so, we make others feel less alone and marginalized, while simultaneously finding liberation for ourselves. It’s no wonder the symbol for the LGBTQ community is the rainbow – it’s a beautiful representation of the diversity that exists in the world.

It’s my hope that Mariah’s words come true — that all of us, no matter who we are, or what our challenges may be — might come together and live harmoniously, claiming our place in the world with authenticity, vulnerability and compassion for one another.

Stay Mighty,
Stephen Fratello

Please share your story at http://www.themighty.com.