Who defines you?

A favorite on my bookshelves is Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.  Sounds like a real page-turner, right?  The interesting thing to me is how definitions change over time.  Compare the definitions you get by Googling a word to Webster’s 1828 definitions and the meanings may look a little different. 

You can roll your eyes at me, but one of the most obvious examples of definition change is how this symbol – # – went from being a pound sign to a hashtag.  It still means pound but that isn’t how it is widely used or interpreted anymore. 

Based on how we see or hear a word (or symbol) used most frequently is how we start to define it, even when we used to define it differently.

Have you ever thought about how this same concept applies to our definitions of ourselves?  Probably.  I hope most of those changes in definition are for what we consider good things – getting married, having children, getting a new job, etc.

But what about those instances when it’s not necessarily something good?  Or it’s not something that we aspired to?  What if it’s something like a new health issue or diagnosis? 

You walk into the exam room a 50-something woman with a family and a job and hobbies and a smile that reminds folks of your mother and a question about some random symptom that started a few months back.  Then 15-minutes later you walk out a 50-something woman with <fill in the blank> diagnosis.  Or maybe there are a few possibilities because “we have to do more testing”.   

Don’t get me wrong – there are multiple reasons why knowing the name of what’s going on in your body is helpful and productive.  It’s when women like you and me walk out of that exam room and instead of “depression” or “hypothyroidism” or “the pain in my back” we walk out saying “my pain” and “my diabetes” and “my anxiety” that catches my attention.

Can you hear the difference?  All of a sudden, we start owning a symptom or a diagnosis.  It becomes part of who we are.  Our definition changes.  We lose track of how we used to be defined and give it up for what we hear at each doctor’s visit. 

Have you considered that the majority of diagnoses a healthcare provider gives are actually just symptoms?  Pain is a symptom.  Anxiety, I believe, is a symptom.  Diabetes is a name given to a set of symptoms.  Migraine headaches are a symptom.  

This is where the business of medicine muddies the waters – before they will pay, insurance companies require a diagnosis code as a reason for why a doctor is ordering a particular lab or doing a procedure or ordering medicine.  Most of them are symptoms or situations.  (One of my favorites – Y93.D1 – Activity, Knitting and Crocheting.  Meaning there was an accident with those knitting needles!)  They have changed the definition of diagnosis. 

Ultimately this is all about perspective and reminding you that you control more of your health – and your definition of yourself – than anyone else out there.  Even a healthcare provider.  Next time you talk with someone about your health, notice the words you use.  And more than anything, be deliberate and intentional in your word choice.  Choose the words that accurately define you.  Choose the words that will support you in your journey to your best and most healthy life. 

Sixty-Second Self-Care Tip

Here’s a quick values exercise I love.  I'll readily admit I learned more about me with this one than I ever expected.  Hoping it does the same for you. 

Grab a piece of paper and a pen.  (No, really…it is a lot easier when you write it down!) 

  1. Write down the names of three individuals you really admire.
  2. Next to each name, write the characteristics you admire in that person.  Try to list 4-8 items for each person.
  3. Go back and circle the characteristics that are repeated in more than one column.

Those characteristics are very likely values that are important to you on some level.  Any surprises?  Feel free to share any aha moments below in the comments.   

Still looking for some ideas of how to get a little more self-care in your routine?  Here's a free download that will give you some ideas!  


60-second self-care, definitions, diagnoses, insurance, symptoms

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