I have now been writing about mental health online since 2016.
I have now connected with thousands of individuals who, like me, have struggled–or are struggling–with their mental health.
I can now see my story alongside the stories of the people I’ve come to know.
This process of understanding my story as part of a bigger collection of stories has changed me–and it’s changed how I view myself.
I no longer see myself as my mental illnesses.
Because I’ve come to know that I’m more than my mental illnesses.
We all are.
There is simply no way that one illness or one symptom can describe you as the complex human being that you are.
As a social worker, I was trained to think of person-first language, as separating the person from their illness or disability–as the only respectful path.
Now I know that life is not as simple as that.
I realize that forcing someone to say “I’m bipolar” or “I live with bipolar” is arguing about semantics.
What matters is what a person thinks is right for them.
The “for them” is what we’re discussing right now.
How do you figure out what is right for you?
For me, I think you have to live it. You need to live through what ails you and come out on the other side.
And now that I’ve been writing and talking about my mental health for many years, I know that I’m not my mental illness. I can now see the symptoms for what they are–symptoms.
Because I’ve chosen to face my mental health issues every day, I’ve come to accept myself as the constellation of peculiar traits and issues that I am.
I’m not one thing, and I never will be.
So, in the end, this was a really roundabout way to say, “Yes. I believe we can figure out who we are outside of our symptoms.”
It’s not an easy process. In fact, it can be pretty darn grueling at times.
But showing up on a daily basis to face my demons has made me realize that they might not be demons after all. They are part of me, and because they are part of me, that means there must be other parts.
There is a part of me that is kind. There is a part of me that is selfish. There’s also a part of me that still picks at his skin from time to time.
But what’s most important is that all the parts of me come together to create a beautiful whole.
If I could go back in time ten years and talk to my 24-year-old self, I would say this:
“I know this feels terrible right now. I know this seems like the end of the world, but it’s a trick. Mental illness doesn’t define you. If you can stay open to it, you will learn so much. And if you keep learning, you will keep growing. If you do that, you’ll get to experience some really profound things.”
That’s what I would say.
That’s what I am saying.