Identity and Mental Health: Who Am I?
This post is going to be a bit of a mind dump. I’m just gonna write down a load of words that are dancing around my brain and hope that they make sense to you because they certainly don’t to me.
At a recent psychotherapy session, we discussed identity. What is an identity? What is my identity? I’m struggling to figure out its meaning.
The medication I take to stabilise my mental health make me behave the way I do every day. On my good days, I am calmer, able to face any challenges and simply get out of bed in the morning. Without my meds, the hallucinations of the psychotic depression return and ‘the girl’ (read about her here) regains her throne. I am beyond sadness and my OCD is in fifth gear. So, if that’s who I am without medication, isn’t that the ‘real’ me? Am I just an illusion? A character? A product of drug-induced neurotransmitters or a creation of my imagination that has tampered with my original blueprints?
I realise I’ve unintentionally internalised my symptoms as part of who I am as a person. My personality and the various mental illnesses that I have unfortunately been blessed with are so intricately intertwined, I don’t know where one starts and the other ends. It’s like a pair of earphones that are always near impossible to untangle. Is that what happens when you become too identified with a diagnosis or label?
I wrote a post a while ago called I Love and Hate my Depression. In a way, I am attached to it because it is familiar to me and even though it’s awful, I know what to expect. Happiness is full of uncertainty and risk. Maybe I’ve become reliant on my mental health to give me a purpose. An excuse. I’ve built a blog and hopefully a career as a psychologist on the basis of experiencing mental health issues. If I get better and succeed with recovery, who will I be? Will I lose my creativity and aspirations? Will I like and dislike the same things? Would I go back to the person I was pre-medication?
I’m so proud to be a mental health blogger and advocate but I sometimes worry I’ve typecast myself. How do I express and portray the other parts of me with the same confidence and passion as I do my mental health? However, as every thought and action is influenced by my mental health, are there other things that make me, well, me?
Most people are mimicking other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinion, their style is from an overrated magazine and their personality is the result of some crappy Buzzfeed quiz that promises to predict your future based on your favourite biscuit. We waste so much of our lives allowing the world to tell us who we are; who we can and can’t be based on social norm and other people’s irrelevant opinions.
When I first went to therapy, I expected to be told all the answers I felt I couldn’t function properly as a human being without. I was desperate for this stranger to tell me who I was and why I am the way I am. I craved guidance and an easy way out. That was 6 years ago and I’m only just coming to terms with the fact that’s not the purpose of therapy. I have to figure it out for myself. I realise I’ve protected myself by refusing to get to know myself. So how do I start?
I find it so hard to trust my thoughts and emotions because they are so unpredictable and invalid. Which are mine and which are caused by mental illness? Or is it both because we are the same thing? I had a slight epiphany in my therapy session recently that may give me a clue as to why I struggle with this concept:-
When I was young, I was very much a little girl with a grown up brain. I was this shy, timid kid in the middle of change and conflict. I put on a brave face and portrayed myself as a child without a care in the world. But the thoughts I had and the knowledge I obtained by sneaking around and listening to conversations was way beyond my years. I didn’t feel I could tell anyone about the things I was upset about, or the fears that I had, so all I could do is acknowledge them in private. I created a persona that enabled me to live my childhood, and I did it so well and for so long that I repressed everything.
That all blew up in my face when I hit my teenage years and realised I had a problem with my mental health. It was like I had found the dusty dress up box tucked away at the back of my brain with a scared little girl in it and opened it like Pandora’s Box. I didn’t know how to deal with all these memories I had buried alongside my new diagnosis. I was embarrassed and I felt like a freak. So, I became two people again. In public, I became this confident, funny girl with a smile plastered on her face on the shop floor at work. Whereas in the privacy of the loo cubical during my lunch break, I was an anxious, hysterical mess.
However, as I’ve got older and I am accepting and open about my mental health, my two characters have morphed into one. For the first time in my life, I am just one person and it confuses the hell out of me. My brain hasn’t quite got to grips with the change yet, and it’s still trying to think like two people. I’m still trying to figure out which thoughts belong to who. I get paranoid that I’ve repressed things that I haven’t yet rediscovered and it feels like a ticking time bomb in my brain. It’s like I don’t trust who I am and I’m scared of inhabiting the world under false pretences. I spend too much time in the past or the future instead of where I am right now.
My thinking is faulty and I need to rewire it, but how? I spend so much time preaching to other people – “You are NOT your mental illness. You’re a person with a mental health problem. It doesn’t define you!” I need to believe it myself. A drop of rain will lose its identity as soon as it hits a river. A person should not lose their being because of the society of which they live or the shitty hand they have been dealt in life.
As humans, we change, evolve and adapt. However, I feel stuck. My brain seems to filter out the questions that may challenge my way of thinking. However, doing psychotherapy has encouraged a few to seep through the cracks. So maybe I’m beginning to make progress and find the answers I need. I hope so.
I appreciate this whole post was a bit of a bonkers mind splurge, but thanks for sticking with me ’til the end.