Today, I’ll start out by stating my conclusion: My mental illness is not who I am, but it makes me who I am.
It is common for those with a mental illness diagnosis to assert that they are not their disease. They have an illness, but it doesn’t define who they are. I certainly agree that no one “is” their mental illness. But, because of the particular struggles we face and the ways we go about overcoming those struggles, doesn’t living with a mental illness ultimately make us who we are?
Mental illness affects our everyday experiences, and shapes the way we see things. Living with a mental illness requires a great deal of strength and determination. So, I put forth that we are not our mental illness, but it does make us who we are.
I believe that who we are has to do with the distinctions we make between ourselves and our illness.
Personally, I find that there is a fine line between what I consider to be my “true” self, and my Bipolar Disorder. There is a spectrum of moods, and somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot of feeling like myself. But even when I am in that spot, I can’t just forget all about all of the things I need to do to keep myself healthy.
I used to look at all the things I have to do to take care of myself as a sign of my illness seeping into the rest of my life. However, I have since begun to realize that there is one important factor I was forgetting about: I am the one doing those things. Me. When I am taking my medication and sleeping enough and exercising and learning to challenge my negative thoughts? That’s me. When I am so depressed that I don’t feel the strength to reach out and ask for help, but I do it anyway? That’s me, too.
That is how I distinguish myself from my mental illness. I am not the Bipolar Disorder; I am the person doing the work to overcome the obstacles that Bipolar Disorder puts in my path.
That is how my mental illness makes me who I am.
What do you think? Does mental illness make you who you are? How do you make the distinction between yourself and your illness?