I I am currently writing some course materials on identity, health and wellbeing. I have not given much attention to thinking about my own identity in relation to health until now, but on reflection it seems quite important. Before being diagnosed with asthma in my mid-thirties, and borderline high blood pressure in my forties, my contact with health professionals was minimal, whereas now there are regular check-ups with practice nurses and occasional consultations with doctors. Whilst these encounters are usually reasonably satisfactory, I often feel that my sense of identity in the consulting room is quite different to that in many other aspects of my life.
As time is limited in these appointments there is necessarily a focus on the medical aspects of my being. Should I happen to mention something else that is going on in my life it might at best be briefly acknowledged, or at worst ignored as irrelevant to the business in hand. One practice nurse, who thankfully has now moved on, was terribly patronising and would make generalised statements starting with phrases like ‘I find that asthmatics …..’. I used to leave those appointments simmering with anger and feeling thrown back into a frustrated child-like state of weakened identity. In the end I started wearing a jacket and tie to appointments with that nurse to try and assert a more powerful identity for myself in the room!
I can also remember experiencing annoyance with well-meaning friends who suggested that these long-term conditions were probably brought on by suppressed anxiety, anger or other emotions which could be sorted out with one brand of psychotherapy or another. Now I do agree that mind and body are linked and I know that the role of genetic factors in physical health is still being debated in some quarters, but this just did not fit with my sense of identity and I resented the implications of emotional vulnerability suggested by these people. Whatever the causes of my medical conditions (as I am choosing to view them) my sense of identity clearly plays an important role in my willingness to engage with others in finding ways of managing them so I can get on with my life.