Why I Couldn't Relate to 'You Are Not Your Mental Illness'


You have probably heard the saying “You are not your mental illnesses,” or “Your illnesses don’t define you.” While I can now appreciate the meaning behind these messages, there was a period of time when I really could not relate to them. For almost all of last year, my mental illnesses practically took over my life. I no longer had depression and anxiety; they had me.

At the time, it felt as if I were helpless and alone in a violent ocean, uncontrollably tossed and thrashed, worn and weathered until I could no longer re-emerge to the surface. I was dragged and pulled down until I hit rock bottom, and there I remained for a long time. Depression and anxiety were the ocean that engulfed me, consumed me, drowned me. They polluted nearly every ounce of the person I was. They were relentless, invasive and deadly.

My illnesses set out to sabotage so much of what was good in my life. My relationships were affected; my loved ones liked my old self better. I did too. The parts of me others loved most were rapidly slipping away. Even the parts I felt certain would never succumb eventually did. I reached a point when, most of the time, I no longer recognized myself. My former personality, behavior and authentic self was disappearing, falling victim to this new, unwelcome identity.

My own body fell out of my control. It was a prisoner, a puppet to anxiety and depression. These illnesses acted as evil ventriloquists, moving my mouth and body for me, dictating each action and decision. Sure, I could act like my old self sometimes, but only if my illnesses decided to lay low and permit me to. They were sneaky like that.

I was plagued with uncontrollable rage, despair and fear. I was acting out, going on rampages, radiating negative energy. I was terrifying people, and when I was stable enough to realize what I was doing, I even terrified myself. I always apologized when I was coherent again, when I actually became aware of all that had happened. I always meant it, but the damage was already done.

I would give up nearly anything to erase all of those awful things from the past; God knows I am so sorry for all of it. And what both pains and relieves me is that none of it would have happened if I were actually myself… if I were the real Emily.

If I hadn’t been so sick…

If I had been in control of myself…

If the chemicals in my brain decided to work properly and stay in balance…

If I were being given the proper dosage of my medication at the time…

If the pharmacy didn’t screw up and force me to go without my prescription for multiple days…

If I had been brave enough to get serious help before I hit rock bottom…

If, if, if, if, if… so many ifs …but nothing can be changed.

So what do I do? I keep growing, improving, fighting, praying.

And now? I am Emily again… in many ways a better Emily. Emily who has depression and anxiety, but is no longer had by depression and anxiety. Emily who worked so unbelievably hard to take back her body, her mind, her personality. Emily who laughs and jokes and loves with everything she has. Emily who once again feels blessed for the wonderful gift of life she has been given. Emily… who will never be imprisoned again, no matter what.

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