I suppose I should apologize for such a delay between my posts, but I’ve had a good excuse. As many of you know, I received a double-lung transplant on January 7, 2011, in Cleveland. My recovery has been remarkably smooth and quick [lots of *knocking on wood* and gratitude to God / The Divine / The Universe], but it still requires a bit of time and effort and energy. That said, I was thinking at various moments ‘I really need to write this into a blog post,’ and I tried to journal at least for the first few days (once I was conscious) in the hospital. I now have, in part, three or four different blog posts in various states of completion – two from pre-transplant and two from post. We’ll see how they progress. 🙂

So now without further ado….

Identity in… Onions and Butterfly Pillows?

My life is being renovated.

In the (still early) recovery stage from my double-lung transplant, we have decided that the old shag carpet in our house needs to go bye-bye. We’ve wanted to get rid of it for years, as the germs and pathogens (the doctor wrote that into the prescription) weren’t good for my allergies, much less my CF. But they are even worse for the post-transplant immune system. And we have the luxury to spend as much time as necessary with my in-laws while the work gets done. So it will start this week.

I went to the house yesterday for the first time in two months, and it feels like a completely different place. My mother and Tim’s parents have stripped it of its trappings; almost all of the decorations, knick-knacks, vases, etc have been packed up and hidden away. The bookcases and books and CDs and DVDs are all gone. The plants are all gone (and will need to stay gone). The tv room, which I’ve felt to be my sanctuary at times, is down to just the bare furniture; the comfort from the blankets and pillows is missing. It’s still my house, but it no longer feels like my home. It’s lost its identity.

The same thing happened through the progression of my CF, especially in the last year or six months. I realized at some point that my identity was peeling away, like the layers of an onion, as I became more sick and less able to do the things I loved. My former identities included the roles or labels of scholar / intellectual, professional, dancer, actor, mentor and musician. The last fell away when I determined I could no longer participate in the church choir. Of course, these were all outward manifestations of my inner personality; I still feel like a musician and enjoy music, even without belonging to a group. But when / if someone asks me, “So, what do you do?” (the proverbial, ‘they’re asking for your job, but you don’t work, so how do you identify yourself?’ question), I have been reduced to “I’m a professional patient.” True, but not very satisfying – and it doesn’t speak to what’s in my heart.

What is in my heart is the core of the onion, so to speak. These are the identities that haven’t been stripped away by my illness, but have, in some cases, grown stronger through it. I am a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister. I am a patient – for better or worse. I am a spiritual person. I strive / aim / hope to be compassionate, empathetic, helpful, positive and a positive role-model.

Now – a renovation! While I more fully saturate into these core roles, the energy from my new lungs has re-opened the world to me with all its possibilities. I made a list for the doctor of ‘when (if ever) could I do this’ items, which included everything from being on a movie set again to hiking up a mountain to kickboxing to stage combat. I’m realizing, however, that what I enjoy isn’t that much different than what I did before transplant; it’s just a matter of having the energy to do.

One power of a renovation is that you can re-decide what you want to have on a shelf, in a room, in your house, or in your life. If the floors are wood instead of green shag carpet, perhaps we’ll want a different color on the walls. Maybe we want the butterfly pillows, or maybe we don’t. In rebuilding my identity – in putting the layers back onto my onion core – I can choose which labels and roles to take back, and I can choose what priority to put into each one. Then again, can’t we all do this, without a transplant to be the catalyst?

Some food for thought / discussion:
* What identities / roles / labels do you have? Do you hold them voluntarily, or are they foisted upon you? Do you have a choice? Would you choose differently?
* There is a Buddhist meditation practice of continually asking oneself, ‘Who am I?’ How far down can you get into your own onion?
* At what point(s) in your life did you have a personal renovation? Did you strike out bravely or take tentative steps? Looking back, would you have done something differently?
* How does watching someone else’s renovation affect you? (Perhaps a parent watching a child grow and learn, or someone following my transplant process through LHH, with daily updates.)