I’ll tell you all, it has been a week! Not any wilder or different than any other week in 2020 but just like every other week, I’ve learned something valuable about my mental health that I’d like to share. Before you get excited, no, I didn’t remember the post I wanted to write earlier this week – we’re going to have to let my GAD have the win there. But I also realized that I use the phrase ‘you are not your mental illness’ quite often, and while I know what it means and that others know what it means when I say it, I haven’t explained how I came to that conclusion (hint: it wasn’t research!).
I used to think that my mental health issues were the only interesting thing about me. Everyone has a thing, right? Every office has a person that has a thing, every group at school has people that bring something unique to to their friend group. At some point, when I’d figured out how to live with mental illness, I assumed that this was my thing. And I’m totally fine if mental health is recognized as my thing, but that’s not how I saw myself. I was using this self-defined situation as a crutch, and relying on my mental health to be the only thing I’d let myself think is noteworthy. I might not have thought I was important, but I thought mental health was important, so I made sure to care about my depression and anxiety while stopping short of caring about myself. It isn’t a spoiler to say that didn’t work out.
It’s very hard to convince myself to care about me. Whether that sounds a little silly or nonsensical doesn’t matter much to me, because it’s true. I love helping others, boosting other people’s moods and caring for people, but when it comes to me, I don’t think I’m worth the effort. And without turning this into a therapy session, I’d like to say that this realization is what helped me move forward in separating me (Nathan, mid-20s man who loves sitcoms and independent movies) from my depression and anxiety (which, as we know, is not a person). I am not great at it yet, but I’m also improving every day to understand and reinforce that most of the things I don’t like about myself aren’t personality traits – they’re actually symptoms.
Which brings me to the title of this post. The inspiration behind the title was a statement I’ve heard often: You Are Not Your Mental Illness. I definitely think it’s true, but plenty of people have said it before, and I know most of you might have heard that before too. But the flip side of that is when someone tells me that, my response is “Well then, what am I?” And I think that’s where I’d like to leave today. So much of my mental health journey has been looking for definitions, clear terms and labels for what it is I’m going through. I think it’ll give me some comfort to know these things, but I’m only right about half the time. But now that I’m really thinking about it, the most relief I’ve felt on this journey is when I learn about the things I am not, and what I’m no longer dealing with.
I love asking the big questions in life, and answering the question Who Am I? has been one of my biggest as far as I can remember. I thought living with depression and anxiety would show me who I am. As I’ve moved on the journey, I’ve seen just as much of who I’m not – and while most of my questions haven’t been answered, I can say this with confidence: I am not my mental illness. And I’m proud that every so often when I say it, I actually believe it. Wishing you all the best this week my friends!
This post is definitely my own take on the phrase ‘You are not your mental illness’, and I’m doing my best to ignore the negative experiences I’ve had with it. But I know there is some good in saying it. Do you like hearing the phrase ‘you are not your mental illness’? Does it empower you, or is it annoying to hear because of past experiences? Let me know!