My Mental Illness Does Not Define Me

wallace monument stirling scotland mental health stereotype stigma

“But what I struggle with…” I’d often say, to cautiously steer a conversation towards mental health, as if navigating a social minefield, scared of saying the wrong thing. I was always worried that once I’d used a hideous taboo word, like ‘anxiety’ or ‘antidepressants’ that it’d all be over for me. Nobody can go back to before and pretend they never heard you say it. Once you’ve labelled yourself, you’ve done it for life.

Growing up in a society where most people were too quiet on mental health, I never felt I had the opportunity or even the right to talk about it. Awareness was so low I didn’t even know what mental health was, let alone that I was suffering from an illness I had no idea existed. It took a long time for me to be honest with myself about my mental health, and much longer for me to be honest with the people in my life about it. Although years later we as a society have become better at talking about it, I feel we have a much longer way to go with tolerance. There’s still a huge emphasis on ‘crazy’ people, on tragic characters whose main personality trait is a serious mental illness. I felt that when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 19, that my friends no longer introduced me as Zoe; the geeky and witty one. I was Zoe; the depressed and anxious one. My illness made me edgy and interesting to people curious about how I lived my life, and my medication became a cool accessory. I was not a mysterious Batman villain who just needed saving, I was not a loose cannon and a danger to the outside world, I was still me, just ill. But I felt all of my identity squashed by my diagnoses.

I edged painfully around touchy subjects, wanting to get it off my chest but also not wanting to burden them with too much pity. I’ve been judged, avoided, ridiculed, but what can I do about it? My illnesses have taught me a lot, and they’ve helped me grow as a person; but they are not me. They’ve held me back, dragged me down, and worn me out. But under all of the scars and coping mechanisms, I am still myself. An illness shouldn’t become a persons entire life or identity, and it’s wrong that someone else should perceive them only as their diagnosis. Beyond our illness, we are whole, unique people, and no amount of intolerance will change that.

 

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18 thoughts on “My Mental Illness Does Not Define Me

  1. Very relatable. I am endlessly struggling with wanting/needing to talk about my mental health but also not wanting to be consumed by it or defined by it. It doesn’t define me but it absolutely shapes me. Sarah Elle xo

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t have a support network. It’s just me and my husband. He doesn’t understand. I can’t count on him for support. I don’t have anyone to call or see. I feel so alone and unloved.

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  2. This is really empowering, and there is definitely hope that with all the great awareness raisers (yourself included) mental health issues will be seen as a part of someone’s journey, not their entire DNA. Right now the increased volume and scrutiny (which is much needed) puts our conditions in the spotlight and can make ppl see us only through that lens. But I’m confident that perspective will evolve the more ppl like u spread the word, and the eery curiousity about those “mh” ppl fades.
    Love your writing 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you thank you thank you!! I really hope attitudes change and we can comfortably talk about mental health without worrying about stigma or labels. We’re working towards that!

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  3. Society still has a long way to progress.

    When meeting someone first few times, I usually think “tell me who you are, and what matters to you” – so many as 3 questions: vocation? What is your [hidden] health condition*? What have you done as work or education*?

    Very isolating, to realise that people care more about labels, than personal identity.

    *i.e. who have you been, and why are you here?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Give yourself a pat on the back because you are doing so so so goddamn fine. I was diagnosed with panic disorder with agoraphobia and (recently) major depressive disorder. I’ve always been honest about how i feel. It didn’t start out as a goodwill of spreading awareness, as it is now. My symptoms were very…uh physical so it was either my narrative or their assumptions. So every time you’re thinking twice about the way you talk about your struggles, keep reminding yourself that it’s either your narrative or their assumptions (i don’t mean assumptions in a negative way, too. i mean it in an impaired understanding kind of a way). You owe yourself that control that comes with your personal narrative of your struggles. x

    Liked by 1 person

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