Identity and Mental Health: Who Am I?

Identity and Mental Health: Who Am I?

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.

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4 Comments

  1. 06/08/2017 / 09:42

    Your honesty is raw and brave and will ring so true to so many who need to hear your voice. Remember you’re a light in this world and stay strong x

  2. 05/08/2017 / 11:54

    As usual, Meg, I appreciate your blog post immensely. I can relate to the questions you raise as to the limits between personality and mental health ; I find that at least in my case, traumas resulted in two concurrent branches in me : it shaped certain personality traits and life philosophy, such as kindness & compassion, aversion to violence, but also created a host of mental illnesses, which can in themselves be subdivided, but summed-up as trauma-based anxieties and phobias. Which in turn created thought patterns, inhibitions, and avoidance. With the help of therapy, I came to progress a little bit regarding my trauma, and a lot more with my avoidance of social meetings, because that’s the aspect I worked on the most.
    When it comes to my current state, I started to change and fear a bit less ; I came to enjoy a wee bit more meeting friends, going to the movies, or suffer less at the stores.
    I think that there is that me which is totally separate from mental illness, with passions and interests where I see no connection whatsoever to my conditions. Those other parts which seem to cling and whisper ill-omens of doom have become intricate in me because I lived this way for so long, whereas I see the benefits for you to have started therapy much earlier in your life and I hope that you’ll find answers and redefine who you are as a person who is suffering (or better yet, who has suffered) from mental illnesses, and that you would no longer be defined solely from those aspects of you.
    You’ll probably have to go out of the comfort zone of knowing what your depression makes you think and believe, by trying new things and to challenge the automatic assumptions of fear and anxiety. Thus far, I know that you have had a few successful challenges in regards to travel, such as when you went to the talkmh meetup, or to Paris. Although you still experienced anxieties, you also challenged and managed to enjoy parts of these opportunities and I’m sure that as you practice this more often, you’d be able to improve and tip the balance between anxiety/avoidance/enjoyment towards a more bearable level, and thus it should, normally, help change perspectives and redefinition of your personality.
    I won’t wish you luck, but a fruitful and evolutional process, because I’m a humanist and prefer to put stock on people rather than magic.
    Throughout your process, you can rely on my feedback, anytime that we can coordinate a chat about it.
    PS, as often, I loved your use of mythological imagery, and of your humor, which I absolutely enjoy.

  3. 04/08/2017 / 10:05

    Now then ! If you think this post was bonkers mind splurge (it wasn’t) can I answer the same way !!!?
    I went through 31 years of life before one day my fiancée found me in the living room sitting on the floor in just my pants crying! That’s when we got the ball rolling and I was at my GP’s being prescribed antidepressants. Fast forward a few years we marry, have Marnie (my little girl) then unfortunately divorce…..this is when things really took a turn for the worse for me, which ultimately ended with me trying to take my life. I said my answer was a splurge!….stick with me I’m going somewhere! I know look back on my life and can see many times I needed help but I covered it up by being the joker of the pack and kept it to myself….but to get back on subject – who am I now ? I’m that guy who tried to kill himself – Grimsby ain’t a big place lots will know about this – but that’s not me, it’s not my identity, it was a stupid action I took because of a illness. For me I’m becoming more accepting that maybe it could be part of me now I went 31 years without talking about MH and now I do on a daily basis and I truly think it’s for the better, like you say I’ve evolved into this person right now and I’m sure more changes will come. I’m not my mental illness, I’m Matt – who talks about mental illness!
    Did I actually answer anything there ! Haha my answer was a spurlge your post was a thought provoking, honest peice and that’s why I love reading them.
    Take care, keep sharing (not for me ! for everybody) and all the best, Matt

  4. Sophie
    04/08/2017 / 08:03

    I was brought to tears by the sheer truth, bravery and strength in Meg’s words.
    She is one of a kind, and wonderful for this very reason x

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