There’s a phrase I see a lot when I am scrolling through social media or finding mental health resources on the Internet that always gets me thinking. The concept behind them all is that you (or I, or anyone) is “more than” their mental illness. So for instance, I am more than my depression; I am more than my anxiety; I deserve to be known for more than experiencing mental illness. And while I do think it’s a helpful approach to shrinking the stigma, this type of approach – overcoming obstacles, “beating” mental illness – is still difficult for me to manage. That’s why I want to offer an alternative phrase to use today, and see how folks like it.
I understand the sentiment behind I am more than my depression, and I think it’s a great way to shrink the stigma for many people. But over the years, I’ve had difficulty separating myself from my depression. Most days it feels like it’s as much part of my as my body, my limbs, and the rest of my personality. Other days it feels like a companion that’s following my every move, as if we’re on a journey and depression is my hapless sidekick (though it is anything but hapless). Even on days where it isn’t so present, I can feel it hovering over me like a cloud.
I wanted to find a way to draw that line in the sand for myself. That even though I have depression, even though I live with depression, that is not all of who I am. And so that’s where I landed: I am not my depression. It’s a statement, a reminder. Even though I don’t always know who I am, this makes it clear what I am not.
Depression is a part of me. It is something that sits with me every day. Some days it is dormant, resting, almost non-existent. Other days it wakes me up in the morning and tucks me in at night. But after years of forced handholding, I want to acknowledge my challenges while opening the door to more.
I am not my depression, I am not my anxiety, I am not any one thing. I am a person, a human, and my mental illness does not define me. But it is an important part of me. And I will continue to share that, unbothered and unashamed, as much as I can. And I encourage anyone else to do the same. We have power in our stories, and the more we take charge of those narratives, the more it’s possible we can change them.