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It’s a question we like to avoid: Who are you?

It may be the question, actually. There’s so much weight to those words you can’t help but feel them hit you as your ears and brain correspond to decipher the message. Sure, some could stare straight into your eyes and answer with confidence. But for most of us, the journey to self-discovery is one full of trial and error, highs and lows and years and years of experience.

But for those of us who have a mental illness, answering that question can be even harder. How can we define who we are when we often feel like we’re two, separate, distinguishable people?

Does my mental illness define me?

What side of me is the real me?

Many mental health advocates will be quick to remind you that you are not your mental illness. And I strongly agree with this statement…mostly. You should never let any ailment, mental, physical or otherwise, define who you are. But I do think it’s important to realize that a mental illness is still part of who you are. It’s not the whole package — it may not even be half of you — but your mental illness is, nonetheless, a part of who you are.

And that in and of itself is a journey that can take a long time to get used to.

As someone who’s experienced depression and anxiety since I was 13 years old, I know firsthand what it’s like to live in denial. I know what it’s like to live in silence and fight feelings. It took me years to finally realize I would, in one way or another, grapple with anxiety and depression most likely forever. And you know what?

That’s OK.

Acceptance was a huge step in my recovery. There are still days I struggle to get out of bed. There are still days I question concrete parts of my life because of all the doubt that fills my mind. There are still days I feel the weight of the world and want to collapse from all my emotions. I’m still working every day to be better, but every day I know I’m not in denial anymore.

And that simple distinction has changed the world for me.

For so long I wanted to be disconnected from my depression. When I was depressed I felt like a different person, and often didn’t know who was the “real me.” Was I outgoing and fun, or someone who stayed in bed all day?

The truth is: both of those sides are me.

It’s like two sides of the same coin. While the two sides may be different, they still make up the whole. I can have a “depressive” personality. I can be happy. They’re still both me. By acknowledging both, I have a greater understanding of myself as a human being.

We’re all going to go through periods of our life full of existential questions. We may be envious of those who seem to have their lives figured out, but here’s the truth:

The journey never ends.

Don’t be discouraged with the progress you’re making in your life. Keep challenging who you think you are. One day, you may reach a point where you can honestly answer the question, “Who are you?” And even then, your journey may change and continue.

It all comes down to accepting yourself, including the parts you wish you didn’t have. Because at the end of the day they’ll always be with us, no matter how hard we try to ignore them.

You are not alone.

You are loved.

This post originally appeared on “Dear Hope.” 

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s a question you wish you were asked as someone living with a mental illness? How would you answer that question if someone did? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to mentalhealth@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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