If I’m Not My Mental Illness, What Am I? – My Brain’s Not Broken

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I’ll tell you all it’s been a week! Not wilder or different than any other week in 2020, but just like every other week, I’ve learned something valuable about my sanity that I would like to share. Before you get excited, no, I didn’t remember the post I wanted to write earlier this week – we have to give my GAD the win. But I also realized that I use the phrase “you are not your mental illness” quite a lot, and although I know what it means and that others know what it means when I say it, I have not explained how I do came to this conclusion (note: it wasn’t research!).

I used to think that my mental health problems were the only interesting thing about me. Everyone has something, right? Every office has a person who has something, every group in school has people who bring something unique to their group of friends. At one point, when I figured out how to live with mental illness, I assumed this was my thing. And I’m perfectly fine when mental health is recognized as my thing, but that’s not how I saw myself. I have used this self-defined situation as a crutch, relying on my sanity to be the only thing I consider to be remarkable. I might not have thought I was important, but I did think mental health was important, so I made sure to take care of my depression and anxiety without taking care of myself. It’s not a spoiler to say that didn’t work out.

It is very difficult to convince myself to take care of me. I don’t care if that sounds a little silly or nonsensical, because it’s true. I love helping others, uplifting other people’s spirits, and taking care of people, but when it comes to me I don’t think I am worth the effort. And without turning it into a therapy session, I would like to say that this realization has helped me (Nathan, mid-20s man who loves sitcoms and independent films) from my depression and anxiety (which as we know is not a person) . I’m not great at this just yet, but I’m also improving every day to understand and reaffirm that most of the things I don’t like about myself aren’t personality traits – they are actually symptoms.

That brings me to the title of this post. The inspiration behind the title was a statement I have heard many times: You are not your mental illness. I definitely think it’s true, but a lot of people have said it before, and I know that most of you may have heard this before, too. But the downside is, when someone tells me that, my answer is, “Well then what am I?” And I think I want to leave here today. So much of my mental health journey has been looking for definitions, clear terms, and labels for what I am going through. I think it will give me some comfort in knowing these things, but I’m only right about half the time. But now that I really think about it, the greatest relief I have felt on this journey is when I learn about the things that I am not and that I no longer concern myself with.

I love asking the big questions in life and answering the question who am I? was one of my greatest as far as I can remember. I thought living with depression and anxiety would show me who I am. As I’ve been on my way, I’ve seen just as much of those who I am not – and while most of my questions have not yet been answered, I can say this with confidence: I am not my mental illness. And I’m proud that I keep believing it when I say it. I wish you all the best this week my friends!

This post is definitely my own take on the phrase “you are not your mental illness” and I do my best to ignore the negative experiences I have had with it. But I know it’s good to say Do you like to hear the phrase “you are not your insanity”? Does it empower you or is it annoying to hear based on previous experience? Let me know!

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