You are not your diagnosis. You are not your MRI. You are not any range of motion or strength score your physical therapist gives you.
Continuing on this journey has opened my eyes to the power and energy the language we use holds. As I’ve progressed from surgery the recovery has continued to permeate and ultimately dominate all aspects of my life. From waking at night feeling pain, to influencing my physical activities, and even the existence of this blog. It’s dominated my conversations with friends, co-workers, patients, and family members at social gatherings.
Through all of these social channels, I’m continually asked if I’m “fully recovered”, or when I’ll get “back to normal.” Constantly reciting variations of positive and optimistic platitudes is only reinforcing the inverse negativity in acknowledging I’m not there yet and have no clue if or when I will be.
During these conversations and my writing for this blog I’ve continued to use phrases like “my arthritis” or “I have arthritis.” This language has promoted a strange sense of ownership over the condition, and has even started to become part of my identity. The pain in my shoulder, the decision to have surgery, and the current recovery journey has dominated every aspect of my life for over a year now.
In DPT school, we spoke about using “patient friendly language.” This meant referring to a patient as “a man with shoulder pain” as opposed to “a shoulder patient.” At the time I didn’t fully appreciate that difference; undoubtedly due in part to limitations in my own perspective. It wasn’t until this past year, graced with the opportunity to be on the other side of that language, that I was able to begin appreciating its impact.
Though it may just look like a variation in phrasing, the difference can be incredible:
· “I have arthritis in my shoulder” implies its permanence in the lasting structure of my shoulder and anatomical identity.
· “There is arthritis in my shoulder” implies only it’s presence and therefore the possibility that the inverse, “there isn’t” can also be true.
If “isn’t” is a possibility, then there must be time and space to influence the outcome. This shift has empowered me to remember I am in control over what happens with that time and space.
I’m not ignoring the present reality or the concrete past. This surgery has been an undeniable catalyst in my life. The subsequent recovery journey has and will continue to shape me as a man. But I am committed in ensuring this chapter will only a part of who I am, and not define me in totality.
It is difficult to navigate our healthcare system and not get faced with a constant stream of competing diagnoses. While they may be necessary evils for our healthcare system’s continuity and the insurance companies’ bottom lines, these labels do not define us. We’re humans above all else, and it’s okay to be seen as a human, with all of our vulnerabilities, scars, and imperfections.
The language we use matters. Be nice to yourself! There’s enough out there already trying to bring us down.
Much love y’all,