"The search for identity involves the establishment of a meaningful self-concept in which the past, present, and future are brought together to form a unified whole." - Erik Erikson
Living with chronic kidney disease, going through dialysis and receiving a transplant is a very intense life changing experience. The journey is different for everyone, however, it is safe to say that for many, life is looked at differently afterwards and one's identity is altered in the process.
I was diagnosed with kidney failure caused by Lupus and immediately put on dialysis at the age of 12. At this time I was attending junior high school doing my best to fit in. According to Erik Erikson, a psychoanalyst, known for his theory of psychological development of human beings, the ages from 12-18 is the stage of identity vs role confusion. A time when we rely on peers for feedback and tend to look at ourselves through the eyes of others. I chose to keep my diagnosis to myself as an attempt to fit in with my peer group. I don't think I really identified with others going through dialysis. For me it was a place I went to three times a week. I didn't talk about it with friends but instead focused as much as I could on friendships, marching band, art and yearbook classes. As a result of that I think my identity continued to develop with a disassociation to kidney failure.
Even after two years on dialysis and a kidney transplant the summer before starting high school, I didn't identify with being a kidney warrior. I still remember to this day being given information about a kidney camp by my post transplant clinic doctors and thinking to myself "no way am I doing that." This was me not willing to be vulnerable, not willing to accept and appreciate that my existence was very different from others my age. I chose not to accept that identity for myself. Toward the end of high school I started to ask myself the typical questions that come along with that time and age:
"Where am I going?"
"Who am I going to become"
With a new kidney and a "normal" life I felt that I could actually answer these questions without limitations. Ultimately I decided on teaching because I enjoyed working with kids and eventually realized my desire to help others. Even though I am no longer a teacher and in debt with student loans, I'm happy I made the decision to attend Antioch University to receive my teaching credential and Masters in Education. At that time in my life, I was searching for something to "label" myself as. Their graduate program provided so much individual developmental support and feedback that I craved as I was trying to figure myself out. I felt like I had everything figured out too. I loved being a teacher and having purpose in my life while giving back to my community.
Flash forward a few years of teaching junior high school when everything changed. I contracted H1N1 (swine flu), was hospitalized and in a medical induced coma as I was placed back on dialysis with a failing body. This time in my life completely tested my strength and identity. I was down to 80 pounds, had lost physical strength, independence, and soon my career as a classroom teacher. Thankfully I regained strength and miraculously my kidney transplant function returned, but I felt totally and completely lost. Outside of being a teacher, I had no idea who I was.
It wasn't until several years later after starting my campaign to find a living kidney donor for a second transplant that I began to discover my true identity as a kidney warrior and advocate for change. Once I educated myself and realized how much bigger this topic of kidney disease is than myself and the need for much needed change, I found my new passion and ultimately my identity.
Now that I am over a year and a half post second kidney transplant, owning my identity as a kidney warrior has been empowering as I realize how strong I am as an individual and how my story can positively affect others. This very idea is the major part of our mission with Get Loud For Kidneys. To empower people to speak up about their connection to kidney disease, to celebrate their identity as a kidney warrior or donor and to be a part of positive change in the world.
Because my life has been so abnormal with many interruptions in my development as a person, I continue to explore who I am, my life values, and ultimately the impact I'm having on others. I want to continue to grow each and every day into my best possible self. Ultimately I'm very happy with my identity and I have my life experiences and all the amazing people I have met on this journey to thank for it.
"Identity must be acquired through sustained individual effort. Unwillingness to work actively on one's identity formation carries with it the danger of role diffusion, which may result in alienation and a sense of isolation and confusion." - Erik Erikson