Misplaced Identity: Losing My Place in Society

As human beings, probably since the beginning of time, it’s natural to think about how we fit into the "larger" society in which we find ourselves. It’s often how we get our identity as individuals within the world around us — not only who we are as individuals in relation to others, but also in what we are able to contribute to society as a whole.

My role within my community has changed

For example, prior to my role as a person with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I was actually a teacher. Yes, it was challenging work, but I really felt like I was contributing to my community in a meaningful and productive way. What I had to offer my students and their families mattered; I made a difference in their lives.

Honestly, I’ve grappled with this change in various ways over the years since my diagnosis and the subsequent realization that I could no longer effectively be the teacher my students deserved.

On one hand, there is the obvious paycheck challenge. But on a deeper level, my role within my community — and, therefore, my personal identity has fundamentally changed. I struggle with feeling like I’m not a contributing member of society, like I’ve lost where I belong within the "bigger picture."

This lack of direction puts me on edge

Especially in recent months, I’ve been grappling with this (sometimes overwhelming) feeling of being sort of lost and left with more questions than answers. I’ve struggled with uncertainty about where I fit into the whole scheme of things because being an RA/RD patient has seemingly taken over everything.

If all I am is a patient, what could I possibly have to contribute? Where do I fit in now? Will I just wander around aimlessly for the remainder of my time here?

If you think things have gotten a little "deep" in here, it’s probably because they have. The nagging lack of direction puts me on edge and serves as a near-constant reminder that I am no longer the person I once was. And, further, I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing.

Four ways to find place and purpose

So how do we get ourselves back on track? How can we find our new place and purpose, despite the challenges we face with RA/RD? Where can we look to discover who we are and what we have to contribute BEYOND our disease? Because, no matter what, we need to remember that we are more than our RA.

1. Focus your attention outward

Because I still have 3 school-age children and a husband, distractions are pretty easy to come by. But even so, I still find myself having to be intentional about it. When our bodies speak so "loudly" and incessantly, we need to be intentional about taking a break from listening.

But when we turn that attention outward, we can be a blessing to others instead. Write an old-fashioned letter to a friend. Connect with someone homebound. Get involved with a charity. These can all help us get our attention somewhere else beyond ourselves.

2. Learn something new

We are in the digital age, where you can learn anything you want anytime and anywhere. Think about something, anything, that you’ve been curious about and decide to learn more. If you feel up to it, go to the library or take a class. Be intentional about it. You never know what you might discover.

3. Challenge yourself

What do you know you "need" to do but have been reluctant to actually do? Or, what have you dreamed about doing but have been afraid to take that first step into? Give yourself a challenge and do your best to get started and do a little each day. You don’t need social media and a group of thousands to participate in a "challenge." Challenge yourself to do it, whatever it is.

4. Lean into your faith

At a time when you are uncertain about your place or about where you fit in as a person with RA, faith can serve as a higher place and calling beyond your place here. I find it very helpful to lean into that, and I find great solace in knowing that, ultimately, I’m meant for something more. Regardless of the challenges I face here, there is always something more.

How have you found a new identity or sense of purpose with RA? Share with us in the comments below.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.