illustration of a woman

My Mental Illness Defines Me and That's OK

159
159
0

“You are more than your diagnosis,” my loved ones will say. “Don’t let your mental illness define you.”

At first, I never questioned the validity of their suggestion. But over time, it became clear that a well-meaning piece of information, paired with good intentions, could turn out to be a serious source of invalidation.

It’s tricky. You see, I have found that some people will often point out that when you have a physical ailment, like diabetes or cancer, you refer to yourself as having a disease rather than being one (i.e. I have cancer versus I am cancer).

But I believe this logic doesn’t apply to mental health disorders for a simple reason: they literally affect everything in your life, and sometimes they can make you feel like they’re part of you.

For instance, although I started struggling with my mental health at the age of 14, here I am today, six years later, still depressed and unwell. Yes, I’ve made some progress since then, but I still grew up, during which time, my symptoms were still present.

When you’re a teenager, you begin to form your identity and embark on your quest for independence. Throughout my teenage years, I had an existential crisis, trying to answer the complicated question of, “Who am I?” And at the time, I was severely depressed and deeply suicidal. If you were to make a big pie chart of my life at the time, my symptoms would have filled up the thickest slice.

My mental illness affected the way I shaped my identity growing up. So how can I say it doesn’t define who I am when it affected the very core of my being? From my point of view, mood disorders are shitty because they affect the lens through which you view the world. Emotions color your world and perspective, therefore, sometimes it can be hard to separate yourself from your symptoms.

In my case, I know my mental illness touched every single part of my life. It affected the books I read, the movies I watched, the people I saw, my hobbies (or lack thereof), the quality of my academic papers, my performance at work, my physical health, my appetite, my sleep pattern, the activities I chose, my creative writing and so on. My mental illness affected my interactions with my parents, my relationships with my friends and the way I see myself.

Many times, my mental illness engulfed me completely. My symptoms became all-consuming, and at times, life-threatening. In short, my mental illness changed my experience of being human. Even now, when I look at my day-to-day schedule, I see that my treatment plan can be time-consuming: therapy appointments, peer support group, intake assessments, blood tests, trips to the pharmacy and so on.

Now, when people tell me, “You are more than your diagnosis,” it puzzles me. I understand where they’re coming from, and yet, sometimes I disagree. On the one hand, I find diagnoses to be validating. Receiving a diagnosis meant a lot to me because it took away a lot of the self-blame. It validated the idea that what I struggled with wasn’t “normal” and therefore I wasn’t making things up. I also found that receiving an accurate diagnosis was important and valuable because that diagnoses influenced my treatment decisions; like what kind of medications I would be taking — which can sometimes affect your mood, sleep, energy level and so on. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone likes to be put into rigid categories for a number of reasons, and I personally find that labels make me feel more like an object and less like a person. Diagnoses help and can bring relief, but only to a certain extent. I guess there are pros and cons to everything.

What bothers me about people saying that diagnoses aren’t that important is that sometimes, they can indeed have a significant impact on someone’s life. For instance, I recently got diagnosed with a personality disorder. That’s pretty defining, if you ask me. On top of that, there’s a stigma that comes with borderline personality disorder (BPD). People get treated differently, even among professionals in the mental health community. If you’re going to associate and tie my name to a label with a negative connotation — that’s pretty defining. And lastly, getting told the ways I manage my emotions and relationships are signs of a disorder, rather than the results of just being “me,” well, that could be upsetting for anybody.

The truth is, my struggles have shaped who I am today, and I don’t think that’s a good or bad thing. I can’t remember who I was before my mental illness because I became depressed at the same time I was attempting to create a “self.” There’s no going back to who I used to be. I don’t have a baseline — it’s like I’ve forgotten what life without mental illness feels like. And because my mental illness has been the center of my life for so long, I don’t know who I am without it. Just the idea of not being mentally ill can send me into an identity crisis.

On a final note, I just want to say that if I could go back in time and change things, I wouldn’t. My mental health struggles have taught me so much — about owning my struggles, about being grateful for my loved ones and about cultivating courage as well as resilience. Even if I’ve spent more than a hundred days in the psych ward this past year alone, I know that these hospitalizations were steps I needed to take in order to heal.

My mental illness has showed me the power of love, courage and connection. Because of my struggles, I am more compassionate, gentle and kind. I appreciate the little things and I don’t take any moment of happiness for granted.

Through my recovery, I have met some incredible people and cultivated relationships on a whole new emotional level. I have a better relationship with my parents, my friends and myself. I have learned the value of having a healthy mind, and I have learned to cherish my ability to read and write. I have seen the power of friendship and vulnerability, and I believe that because of my disorder, I have experienced things more deeply.

I lost myself in my mental illness, but I found myself there, too.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via amoklv

159
159
0

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The 'Ugly' Side of Self-Care We Don't Talk About

29
29
0

No one talks about the “ugly side” of self-care. Self-care isn’t always candle lit bubble baths or reading a book by the pool or sipping hot drinks while watching reruns of old school sitcoms. Most of the time self care is forcing yourself to get up in the morning to go to work because otherwise you can’t afford food and calling in sick isn’t an option. Often, it’s taking a shower even though you would rather be in bed. It’s taking your medication and pushing on with the day. It’s forcing yourself to engage with your friends even though you’d rather be crying alone in your room. It’s feeding the cat every morning even though you would rather die than move out of your bed which has become your haven. It’s going to countless psychiatry appointments and taking in their advice. It’s using coping methods rather than drowning yourself in self-destruction. It’s forcing yourself to eat your dinner and smile in the mirror. Self-care isn’t always beautiful — most of the time self-care sucks, but it’s what has to be done.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Natalia_flurno.

29
29
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Chris Grady's 'Lunar Baboon' Comic Spreads Positivity While Depicting Mental Health Struggles

1k
1k
2

Chris Grady, a teacher from Toronto and the artist behind the Instagram account “Lunar Baboon,” wants to bring small moments of happiness to people’s days with his creative family-centered comics.

Each comic follows a father and his wife and children, based on Grady and his own family, through their daily adventures, often offering a glimpse into the introspective, relatable monologue of Grady’s father character. While the comics are often sweet and lighthearted, they’re also powerful and honest in depicting a character’s struggle with mental illness.

young boy teaching father and son about planets in a comic

Wife comforting her husband who is depressed

When asked what inspired the account, Grady told The Mighty:

After the birth of my first son, I was going through a really hard time. I wasn’t sleeping and started getting really depressed and found myself in a dark place. I needed something different, I was having a lot of negative thoughts and I needed a place to put them so I started drawing in a moleskin notebook and it’s taken off from there.

Since Lunar Baboon launched, its Instagram account has garnered more than 219,000 followers, and you can often see Grady’s illustrations making the rounds on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Each comic contains a moment of wholesome humor, sweetness, a lesson for kids or heartrending, relatable honesty about mental health. Grady manages to capture all these complexities in a few short panels through simple, iconic illustrations.

He says inspiration for his comics also comes from having been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). “I didn’t really know anything about it,” he said. “To me it was always being afraid of germs but it so much more than that. It’s getting caught on ideas and it bothers you so you’ll think about it over and over again.”

He applies this to his comics: “Whatever I’m obsessing about that day or week, I’ll say, ‘This is really bothering me, how can I turn this into something positive or funny?’”

Some of Grady’s most recognizable pieces feature his character and his son interacting in adorable moments that prove poignant and relatable. One of personal favorites is entitled “Powers.” The comic shows Grady and his son at a bus stop watching a superhero fight a monster. When the son wishes he had powers, Grady compliments a nearby man on his hat. When the man smiles, Grady explains to his son that in this way everyone has powers.

Lunar Baboon Comic "Powers" Father and son watch a superhero and when the son wishes he has powers, teh father compliments a nearby man on his hat. When the man smiles, the father explains that everyone has powers

“You may not have the amazing superpower to fight the monster,” Grady says, “but you do have the power to change someone’s day, and I try to be a good person as much as I can and be nice to everyone I meet.”

With feedback being hugely positive, Grady feels a sense of connectedness with his followers. He gets messages on a daily basis from people who truly relate. “The best thing that comes out of it,” he says, “is that you don’t feel so alone in your struggles.” Grady likes that Lunar Baboon has become a way for people to connect and share ideas. “While it wasn’t the original purpose, it’s great that something I created in a notebook is something that helps people positively,” he told The Mighty.

The Lunar Baboon comics, while short, are memorable. When people see it Grady hopes “for a brief moment it makes them happy or makes them think. Maybe they’re reading it and it’s improving their day. I want them to look and enjoy and to share it and for it to mean something.”

Grady is often asked how he has the time to balance a full-time job, spending time with family, a web comic and more. “I made the choice a few years ago that if I wanted to feel better, I couldn’t just sit around and watch TV,” he told The Mighty. His advice to anyone looking for ways of catharsis or creative expression is “you just have to do it, you have to try.” Grady says he often has to work on comics late at night and push himself to finish them. “If you want to do something, do it,” he says. “Don’t say you don’t have time, there’s always time.”

1k
1k
2
TOPICS
,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

My Footprints Next Yours: A Poem of Encouragement for When You Feel Defeated

60
60
2

I was inspired to write the following poem when I reflected upon the life-changing quality of an encouraging message upon a heart in need. I know that when I feel overwhelmed and vulnerable because of my anxiety, a gentle and kind reminder that I am loved, accepted and appreciated comforts me and diminishes the rising tide of doubt washing over me. I dedicate this poem to you, my fellow Mighty warriors. I am wholeheartedly inspired by your respective journeys and the inner strength that you exemplify as you bravely face each day. May you always remember that you are never alone.

“My Footprints Next to Yours”

When an ocean stands within your eyes,

ready to pour like rain from cloudy skies,
let each tear fall down your face.

Your feelings aren’t something you should erase.

You’re not “less than.” You’re not “just.”
You are “more than.” In this, please trust.
When the darkness overwhelms you by its size
that you valiantly try to minimize,
making you wonder if the sun will ever rise.
I will shine a light as a guide
upon the path that the darkness made difficult to see.
So when you are unsure of where to start,

begin with me.

If you lose your footing
because of unsteady ground,
you don’t have to be ashamed.
I will always be around,
because you matter and have purpose
and are worthy of love.
So, if any doubt comes to mind,
I’ll help you see that you’re enough.
I see beauty in every part of you,
especially where you find it not,
because your inner strength is reflected there,
showing how you give life everything you’ve got.
The journey may not always be easy,
causing you to stumble from time to time,
but I know that if you fall,
you won’t give up on the climb,
because I’ll be right there beside you,
my footprints next to yours.
So amidst any uncertainties or fears,
know that my belief in you unconditionally endures.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Dino Reichmuth

60
60
2
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How I Support Pride as a Queer Woman With Anxiety and Depression

9
9
0

As a queer cis woman diagnosed with mood disorders, major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), I am so happy to see the increase in online support for both mental health and LGBTQA+ issues over the last few years. June is here and many folks posting statuses, images of support, pride flags and babadooks to capture the spirit of LGBTQA+ pride.

However, I can’t help but feel disheartened when I think about the intersection between my mental health and my ability to show support for my community. It makes sense to attend at least one pride parade as a person who is an “out and proud” part of the community, right? Or at the very least: an outreach group, club, protest or something that shows my true colors. Unfortunately, that can’t always be the case. This is especially true if you’re at the intersection of being queer and depressed, like me. It’s easy for me to feel like a bad activist and insecure about my true support or place in the community because of my mental health.

The idea of planning for a large event or being in a big crowd is intimidating, and I generally avoid unknown or uncertain situations if I can help it. While some people might make plans and change their decisions, adjust last-minute or go wherever they want that day — I can’t.

Because of my depression, I struggle to plan out a morning and follow a normal schedule. Because of my anxiety, I hate the idea of not knowing exactly where I’m going or what I’m doing.

I am usually “that person” on Facebook who replies as “attending” to fun events and doesn’t show up the day of. But the truth is, I fully intend to go — but last minute, I realize I physically and mentally can’t. Sometimes I plan to go somewhere with the best of intentions, only to have the sudden, extreme fear of something going wrong. Or I just can’t get myself out of bed because of my depression.

I often feel a knot in my stomach and a wave of nausea that continues until I decide to stay home — disappearing almost magically after I decide to stay. When I was younger, I thought that I had a cold or flu some mornings before school because I didn’t realize it was a physical manifestation of the anxiety I felt every morning.

So what can I, and others like me, do to show support?

There are a lot of ways online to help a cause: sharing articles, events, petitions or fundraisers for charity. Sometimes online support for a cause can be seen as “less than,” or “armchair activism.” This doesn’t take into consideration people struggling with mental illness, chronic pain and disabilities who are passionate but unable to follow the traditional means of activism.

It’s also possible to join a forum, a Facebook group or start a blog. Part of why I’m writing this today is to reach out and contribute to Pride month in my own way, and hopefully help anyone who feels lost because they can’t show support in a way that seems obvious. For years, I told myself I couldn’t participate in obvious ways or felt that my support was unwanted. Only now am I breaking through that mindset. Even small things like pride profile pictures, pride flags or rainbow accessories help.

I find that keeping up to date and being knowledgeable about current issues is also a great way to help. It presents opportunities for education and discussion among friends and relatives, even if it isn’t the most outgoing way to show support.

Another option is to join a pride event in a different way. Many events require volunteers, either before or during the event. You can do something more people-oriented, such as a greeter, or more independent, such as social media posting or office work.

In the past, I’ve contributed to causes by volunteering from home. Usually these events have flexible volunteer schedules and offer accommodation for people with disabilities, allowing you to choose what types of tasks you’re comfortable with. During this years Pride month, I am actively volunteering at a local pride event and joining the cause in whatever capacity I can. While it’s far from perfect, it’s a start at building my identity and place within the LGBTQA+ community.

Finally, I’m making sure to take care of myself, as “activist burnout” can hit me even stronger because of my depression — prompting feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. To everyone reading this, as a member or supporter of the LGBTQA+ community, your happiness and your comfort matters. You matter. And just because this is Pride month, doesn’t mean you should endure unnecessary stress or discomfort. You are not alone.

Happy Pride month to everyone and much love to the LGBTQA+ community.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Kosamtu

9
9
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

I Am Not My Mental Illness

41
41
0

I am not a mental illness.
I am a human being.
The words you use matter.

I am not a monster.
I am not freaky, evil, toxic, scary or dangerous.
I am not the deranged villain in a horror movie.
I am not the unhinged killer in your local news.
I am not the escapee of an insane asylum.
I am not your crazy ex.

I am not abnormal.
I am not embarrassing, unattractive, stubborn, weird or impossible to deal with.
I am not your wacky uncle.
I am not your testy child.
I am not your pesky neighbor.

 

I am not lazy.
I am not stupid, useless, selfish, needy or uncaring.
I am not your rowdy student.
I am not a “freeloader scamming the system.”
I am not your pessimistic friend.
I can’t just “move on” and “get over it.” It’s not that simple. You can’t see the effort that I’m making.

I am not pathetic.
I am not weak, broken, fragile, feeble or defeated.
I am not an advertising slogan.
I am not a campaign talking point.
I am not a hashtag.
I don’t need pity. I need understanding.

I am not your entertainment.
I am not a silly t-shirt.
I am not a Halloween costume.
My life is not a reality show.
And while I can be funny — my life isn’t a joke.

I will heal at my own pace.
I am not an example in a textbook.
I am not a lesson in class.
I am not a case file.
I am not a statistic.

Some things I deal with I may be able to completely heal from; others I may have to learn to manage and live with.

Some may resolve rather quickly; others can take years to work through.
My pace will be different from someone else’s.

I am not making it up.

Just because you can’t see some of my symptoms doesn’t mean they’re not real. They exist inside of me, and I am real.

And just because you can see some of my symptoms, that doesn’t mean I should be treated differently than anybody else.

I have my good days and my bad days, just like you.

Sometimes I need help, just like you.
Sometimes I screw up, just like you.

Sometimes I just need a break, just like you.
Sometimes I just want to be able to live my life, just like you.

I am not a mental illness. I am a human being.

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about. For many of us it’s just part of being human.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead image via contributor

41
41
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.