The labelAll human life was there. A Saturday evening in A&E is a reminder of how quickly life can change. I was with somebody for whom life had inflicted such a change.

Other people came and (a few hours later) went. The mother in excruciating pain supported by her young daughter. One or two worse the wear from drink. A woman with a dog bite. An athlete with a sports injury. An older man. A baby. Some on their own. Others with others. Each given the label.

Junior doctors out on strike. Ambulances queuing up outside. People searching for a relative. Yet the staff made time to bring around cups of tea – those who had been waiting more than four hours offered sandwiches also. The care was excellent despite what was going on within and behind the scenes. ‘You’ve had a busy day,’ I said to one. ‘Yes, but it’s why we do the job we love,’ she replied. After a six hour wait, a doctor. A hospital stay followed and recovery begins.

In many ways, illness and disability have a been a thread – a golden thread, if you will – running through my life. My mum was disabled and spent her last few years using a wheelchair. She died aged 52 when I was 17. I’ve had three periods of chronic fatigue and experienced depression and anxiety at times. My employment career was spent supporting people whose life, and in particular their work, was affected by ill health. Family members have their health issues too.

For many, health problems can take over one’s very sense of identity – and understandably so.

Many find themselves defined by ‘what’s wrong with me’ and lose sight of all that is ‘right with me’. Others have the label placed upon them, treated as if that is their whole identity.

Of course, some display their label for all to see (some collect them as well…) – ‘Can’t you see I’m disabled!’. While others deny its existence – ‘Oh no, I’m fine – nothing wrong!’ Expressions of fear, anger and confusion. Cries for recognition, understanding and acceptance – from others and within themselves.

It’s easy to find oneself describing our being only in relation to health difficulties. Having such problems may be a part of our identity but it is not the whole of it.

No matter what might afflict us, our identity, the person who we are, is still the person God made us to be and the person we are becoming. God’s love is not diminished.

Angela Tilby recently wrote: ‘The description is not the diagnosis and even the diagnosis is not our identity.’

What does your label say?



Issues about health and disability are explored further in the Eastwood Story series of books and the topic of change in Finding Stability in Times of Change.

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