IPF Didn’t Change My Identity

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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The word “identity,” which refers to a person’s “distinguishing character or personality,” according to Merriam-Webster, may sound simple to understand, but it’s actually often confused with other terms.

Before you read any further, take a moment to think about your own identity. When you have a description in mind, please read on.

Many of us may confuse our roles, professions, or hobbies with our identity. Husband, father, brother, patient, and caregiver are examples of roles, while professions may include doctor, flight attendant, teacher, or plumber, for example. Hobbies are typically things you enjoy doing. A person may be a coin collector, painter, quilter, or scrapbooker.

At times, roles, professions, and hobbies can overlap, depending on your perspective. While being a doctor is a profession, a patient may view it as a role. Someone who paints as a hobby may be good enough to become a professional artist.

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What is your identity?

What words describe your distinguishing character or personality? Ethics? Attitude? Morals? What is one word that different people in your life use to describe you?

This word likely depends on the person’s relationship with you. A professional colleague may describe you according to your ethics or morals. For example, they might say you’re honest, hardworking, or someone with integrity. A lifelong friend might describe you as genuine, positive, and caring.

IPF and my identity

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) changed many parts of my life. I served in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years as a special agent with the Office of Special Investigations. After retiring, I spent another 20 years leading related programs for government contractors. Those jobs were my professions. When I stopped working and went on disability benefits, it was the first time in my adult life I didn’t have an answer to the question “So what do you do?”

Thanks to IPF, I gained a new role: patient. While it’s not a paid position or a role I sought out, it became one of the most immediate and demanding roles of my life. But I also grew in my other roles after my diagnosis. I held my first grandchild on the day she was born, and walked my daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.

As for hobbies, I still enjoy amateur radio, reading, and cooking. As I mentioned in a recent column, I have even picked up some new skills, including becoming a licensed drone pilot. I think my hobbies might be described as diversions — opportunities to focus on something unrelated to IPF.

My identity is intact

My identity did not change due to IPF. My identity is composed of my guiding principles, the foundations of which are ethics, attitude, and morals. These guideposts are generally developed early in our life.

IPF couldn’t take away these elements of my identity. They continue to guide me on my journey. My identity fuels my passion for raising awareness and advocating for the IPF community. It’s why I share my story with you, intending to help you find that one element that helps you on your journey.

I maintain a positive attitude, search for the good in others, strive to treat everyone I encounter with dignity and respect, and keep my sense of humor intact (though not everyone appreciates a good pun). I continue to make every breath count.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Karen Carns avatar

Karen Carns

Another good week of learning all about Sam and about who he is by way of what has happened in his life, even though unplanned. Thanks you Sam for sharing with the PF world again this week. Your identity is helping you help others, something I believe you have probably always done, before IPF changed your life.
Stay strong!

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Karen and Jim,

Thanks for taking a look at the column this week. My desire is that anyone who reads the column sees a little of themselves in it each week.

Sam ...


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