I’m the type of person who throws herself into a new identity. For example, I recently picked up knitting. Yet, in my mind, knitting is now and will forever be “my thing”. I am Krystal, the knitter and no one will convince me otherwise! I look forward to the day I’m good enough to make myself some fancy ass shirt or blanket or something, despite the fact I’ve only made one scarf.
It’s an odd personality trait, I know, but I think it has served me well throughout my life. Minus those weird adolescent years, I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of identity. I knew who I was and who I wanted to be. And sure, those two things changed a bit over the years as I matured and learned more about myself. But that never changed my end goal: get from one end point to the other. Should be easy enough, right?
Well, last summer, I started to not feel like myself. At first, it was subtle. I was constantly tired and had trouble sleeping–two things that could be easily chalked up to stress and overworking myself. Then, I lost all interest in my research. But, then again, I’d always heard about that “grad school slump” that occurs around your third or fourth year. Maybe I was just going through that? But soon enough a host of other bizarre symptoms started appearing slowly, then all at once. And then, finally after many doctor visits and a (rather scary) trip to the ER, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by chronic pain, fatigue, cognitive issues and other fun things…
Now, when I imagined who I wanted to be in the future, a badass female scientist who loves her job and still has time for her family, never did I ever imagine that badass future me would have to do all that while dealing with a chronic illness. I wish I could say I jumped into my new identity and am trying to make the best of my situation, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I am very much in the midst of an identity crisis.
And yes, I’m pretty sure anyone would have an identity crisis after getting life-changing news like that. That’s normal. But for me, at least, it’s been extra hard because I’m a grad student. I belong to a group often defined by long hours, heavy workloads and high expectations. But what happens when my body can no longer live up to that criteria? What happens when overworking myself even the slightest bit lands me in bed and in pain? Well, my brain starts feeling sad, ashamed and guilty and I begin to relate to tweets like the one below.
I’m obviously very new to this and don’t have any insights on how to navigate any of this. Maybe one day I will. I’m sure this blog will be the first to know. But now that the dust has settled and I have an official diagnosis, I’m slowly trying to put myself back together. My future may not look how I originally imagined, that’s for sure, but I know that the limitations of my body don’t take away from my contributions of a scientist. Besides, the internet has been able to connect me to so many badass scientists that also deal with chronic illnesses. So if nothing else, at least I know I’m not alone.