For about the first 16 years after my psoriasis diagnosis, I deeply believed that my illness defined me. I was diagnosed when I was just 10 years old. At such a young age, my diagnosis became a huge part of my personality. So many aspects of my life were determined by my skin condition, like the way I dressed, the friends I made, the food I ate, and so much more. Of course I felt like it was what made me, me!
If you’ve ever struggled with a chronic illness, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The chronic and persistent nature of your illness forces it to have a seat at your table of life, in almost every single situation you can imagine. When something is that all-encompassing, it makes perfect sense that you’d start to believe it’s your most significant characteristic.
In order to shift this, you really have to want to see yourself differently. Then, you have to do the work to get there. This is how I learned to not let my psoriasis define me.
Separating my identity from my disease
It wasn’t until years after my diagnosis (after doing a lot of introspective work on myself) that I realized my psoriasis doesn’t define me or who I am. Sure, my psoriasis has shaped me in moments and has pushed me countless times. It has been a beautiful compass and teacher in my life and shows me where to go and when to stay still. But there are hundreds of other qualities, attributes, and life experiences that make up who Nitika is.
How humbling is it to acknowledge that although our chronic conditions can be a huge part of our daily lives, they don’t need to have power over every aspect of them? It’s something that I have been in awe of over the years as I have been talking to audiences across the country and engaging with communities through my blog and social media.
Sometimes, it was hard for me to embrace that I wasn’t my disease because of the attention I would get from being sick. Other times, it felt devastating to separate my identity from the crippling pain I was in, which was constantly shaking me to my core. If you’re in that place right now, where it is hard to see your condition as separate from you, just know I completely get it and you’re not alone.
Discovering what I loved about myself
One thing that really helped me was actively asking myself what I liked and didn’t like. I started doing this after I got divorced at age 24 and realized the only thing I felt like I really knew about myself was that I was sick. To be honest, it felt pretty silly at first, but I slowly started to get really into it. Are you up for giving it a try? Some of the questions I started with are below.
I would ask myself:
- What’s your favorite color?
- What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
- What’s your favorite food?
- What type of fashion do you love?
- What’s your favorite song?
- Where do you want to travel to?
- What’s been one of the happiest moments in your life so far?
- What do you love to do for fun with friends?
- What’s your favorite sport or extracurricular activity?
The list just kept going from there. Again, these questions might seem trivial, but it really allowed me to be in total discovery mode. I started to have a lot of fun with it.
I learned that I love Janet Jackson, my favorite color is green, and I’m a sucker for gluten-free, tomato-free, dairy-free pizza (yes, it’s a thing and not gross!). I’m a singer, an activist, an entrepreneur, and when I feel really comfortable with someone, my goofy side comes out (which is kind of my favorite). I also happen to be someone living with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. I learned hundreds of things over the years, and to be honest, I’m constantly learning things about myself that surprise me.
Can you relate to the struggle of having your condition become your identity? How do you keep yourself grounded and avoid feeling like your condition defines you? Take a few minutes now and journal 20 things you know about yourself that have nothing to do with your condition. You can start by answering some of the questions I listed above. Then, just let it flow. Remember, you’re so much more than your psoriasis. You’ve got this!
Nitika Chopra is a beauty and lifestyle expert committed to spreading the power of self-care and the message of self-love. Living with psoriasis, she’s also the host of the “Naturally Beautiful” talk show. Connect with her on her website, Twitter, or Instagram.