The Internet is littered with images that go “You are not your mental illness”. Mental health advocates, both online and offline, love this one-liner as well. I know it’s only said to try and destigmatize mental illness, but the truth is, I am my mental illness. How could I not be? Let me elaborate.
I have been diagnosed with Clinical Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and even have a few traits of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Fun, eh?
Anyway, each one of these is a disorder of the mind. And last I checked, the mind largely controls or runs an individual. Nobody goes around talking down to say, diabetics, cancer patients, or anyone who is physically ill in this manner. Why then is it socially acceptable to make statements like “you are so much more than your diagnosis” to those suffering from mental illness? The fact that they are invisible does not mean they do not exist or are any less than physical ailments.
They Affect Me On a Day-to-Day Basis
Do you want to know how much my mental illnesses affect me on a day-to-day basis? Clinical depression makes me not only struggle to find the motivation to get things done, but it also often brings up thoughts of suicide. Generalized anxiety makes my chest ache all the time and causes me to chronically worry about the most trivial things. PTSD bombards me with painful flashbacks of traumatic past events when I least expect or need them. And BPD makes me put on my idealistic glasses and see every person or situation as either black or white.
My illnesses are the reason I push people away, sabotage relationships, behave unpredictably, and miss out on personal and professional opportunities.
Thanks to being on expensive medication to be able to be as normal a human being as is possible, I also lose a small fortune and what’s probably worse, experience a hollow, watered down version of every type of emotion there is.
On good and average days, I can manage my illnesses, sure, but there’s no denying that they still have a massive impact on me. And on bad days, whether I like it or not, I have to admit that they pretty much control me.
Replace Platitudes With Real Conversations
I have to fight umpteen battles every day just to be able to function. And even then, despite all the effort and money I put in, I am not able to function even half as well as someone without mental health issues. Mental illness is debilitating through and through, so please let’s not invalidate it by making pointless sweeping statements like “you are not your mental illness”.
If you want to truly empower people like me and remove the stigma around mental illness,
a) acknowledge how difficult it is to live life with mental illness and
b) have real conversations on mental health, no matter how difficult that gets.
So yes, I am my mental illness, there’s no doubt about that. But I am so much more outside of it. If only more people would take the trouble to get to know me and others like me without trying to placate us with pseudo empowering statements. It’s high time people without mental illness make the effort to connect with and get to know people with mental illness.
Because at the end of the day, everyone has mental health. And since mental health is an ever-changing spectrum, there’s no telling when someone with no trace of mental illness transitions into an individual with some mental illness that needs professional intervention. Mental illness does not discriminate and as the most evolved beings on this planet, we owe it to each other to be more kind and accepting of each other.
(Mahevash Shaikh is a millennial blogger, author, and poet who writes about mental health, culture, and society. She lives to question convention and redefine normal. Head to https://www.mahevashmuses.com to download her free book '30 Powerful Affirmations To Boost Your Mental Health'.)
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