The Mighty Logo

When You Become More of a Patient Than Person

All people in treatment are patients. Patients have a responsibility to follow their doctor’s instruction, but also to enact and actualize their own recovery. The doctor won’t be around to hold our hand, to tell you when to deep breath, who to call in crisis, if you should go to that support group meeting.

A lot is left up to us.

When doctors are around we call those therapy sessions, and during a therapy session we experience ourselves as patients. There’s a transaction between Doctor and Patient and hopefully we learn something, or we experience catharsis, or we have a breakthrough, or we feel good, we feel shit. So in that space, we experience ourselves as patients.

I believe you can treat yourself in such a way that you feel like a patient all the time. I believe the experience of being a patient isn’t something limited to the window of time of a therapy session. The experience of feeling like a patient I believe happens both inside and outside of therapy.

How we treat ourselves is always in progress. Life is a constant battle, and we will determine each day how our recovery goes.

We learn in treatment how to be a patient — and we sometimes feel like patients inside and outside of therapy. We can feel like patients all the time, but the reason behind this is that it’s possible to use your survival education obsessively or immoderately to manage your mental illness.

Survival education is the giant container of skills and attitudes of “Mental Health,” at large. The education includes coping skills, treatment methods like CBT, DBT, anything from Acceptance Statements, Self Check-Ins, Opposite Action, Wise-Mind Venn diagram, or Time Management and Planning to control and minimize the impact of stress. The use of your survival education to manage and micro-manage your mental health is a major reason we can feel like patients all the time and not a person.

I’m interested in the topic of Patient Vs. Person, or when you feel like a patient and not a person, due to my experience as a patient.

My friend pointed out the obsession I had with mental health language and methods of treatment, and so one day I sat down and thought about it. My conclusion was I had been institutionalized. I realized that the way we’re conditioned is to feel like a patient and not a person.

I asked myself, can the experience of feeling like a patient all the time be to the detriment of the individual?

My answer:


I had become so centered around the management of symptoms of mental illness that became the only thing I focused on in my life. That’s understandable! I deal with symptoms every day and need to address them! If you have a symptom you obviously have to do something about it. But can I do this continually and still be happy?


When I laid all the cards on the table — what I saw was myself facing more unfulfilling, unsatisfying and repetitive days. Wake up to anxiety, then cope. Use techniques, repeat. Use acceptance to improve the moment, repeat. Plan my day to reduce stress with symptom management knowledge, repeat.

When it came to executing a treatment-centered approach each day, I just assumed that was my duty as a patient. Turns out there’s no life in being just a patient. The life of a person is different for everyone. I think the life of a person involves travel, taking chances, risk and living a vibrant life. What it’s not is obsessive management and micro-management of symptoms. Being a model patient was a drag, and while a necessary one at times, my life lacked being interesting and was without vibrancy.

It may be helpful to show you a self check-in when I was more patient than person:

“What symptoms might I be experiencing?”
“How can I make sure this anxiety doesn’t get worse?”
“What technique will ameliorate this?”
“How long have I been feeling this way?”
“I’m going to reach out and talk about the anxiety. Then I’ll deep breathe and take a bath. Then read.”
“In the next few hours I should follow self-care. If I can get my basic hygiene done I’ll know I’m not too bad.”
“What else can I do today to insure I feel better?”

Looks healthy and sound, right?

Turns out I spent so much time planning and executing how to maintain good mental health, that I had lost track that sometimes you have to live, risk and let the day just unfold without interference. When I gained this perspective I started to let the chips fall where they may. It felt good.

My therapist asked me once, “Is it possible to just have a bad day?”

She meant, “bad day” in the sense of not because of mental illness. Just a bad day.

I don’t mind bad days. They suck. Mental illness isn’t the reason each day sucks. Sometimes it’s just the day you had. Maybe there was anxiety and depression, but maybe that was just part of your day and not your day.

Just for fun, I compiled a list of questions that will show if you treat yourself in such a way that you might feel like a patient, not a person:

If every couple hours you assess the depression, even rate it on a fluctuating scale of 1-10 (I used decimals to be get more exact).
Are you constantly doing self check-ins?
Are you hyper-aware of your symptoms?
Are your thoughts dominated with the language of “Mental Health?”
Have you said yes to ever just having a bad day?
Am I constantly planning my day around how to maintain my mental health?
Has my life just been a game of how well or how poor my mental health is doing?
Do I ever just live and let the chips fall where they may?
Do I wonder what my life is like when I don’t think about mental health?
How long has it been since I spent a week not thinking about mental illness?
And, for fun. It’s always healthy to re-visit asking, “Who am I?”

There was a  turning point. I made a conscious decision to separate myself from “Mental Health,” period. To reject and abandon my survival education to get space from feeling like a patient and not a person.

The time spent away from “mental health” was good. It helped me return back to my recovery toolbox months later with a measured approach to its skills and attitudes. I really need it. There’s nothing wrong with being mindful of “Mental Health,” and I can use the skills and attitudes of my survival education without it becoming obsessive. The way I’ve been unconditioned is to feel like a person who likes to use techniques that help with relaxation and coping.

The practice of survival habits is extremely useful. I just didn’t want to be solely the patient anymore. I wanted to experience a life that didn’t revolve around the language and philosophy of mental health. I had to find a new way again of how to live.

Getty image by MchlSkhrv

Conversations 1