I’m not eating disordered.
I am not depressed.
I am not my mental illnesses.
I have mental illnesses.
I have depression.
I have an eating disorder.
I have struggles.
I am not my struggles.
“There’s a difference between experiencing suffering and becoming it.”
Holding onto mental illness as a part of our identities makes the maladaptive behaviours that much harder to let go. There are many reasons we may hold onto our suffering, but we must also recognize that it is not who we are – It’s part of our journey. In healing we can acknowledge suffering while still trying to move forward and not letting it grab the steering wheel.
Labels in general have a tendency to restrict what we think we can and cannot do in addition to how we behave and how others expect us to behave (Re: my post on diagnostic labels). Diagnoses change. Many people never even get explicitly diagnosed. The stability of assigning part of your identity to a label is comparable to that of defining yourself based on any eternal measure (like your number of instagram followers for example) which is arguably just not good practice. You are defined by so much more than your illness. You ARE so much more than someone with a mental illness.
Identity is a fickle thing and they way we define ourselves is constantly changing. In the words of Matt Haig – There is a transient “you” that exists with and without your mental illness. A you that is there, observing it all, living through it all.
Mental illness is something that happens to you. Just as getting the flu happens to you. Or breaking a leg happens to you. You are not the flu. You are not a broken leg… Yes, these events can shape/define you to varying degrees and mental illness is in a slightly different ball park, but the idea is the same. Yes, a “sick role” can serve a (maladaptive) purpose in our lives, but the role we think this “identity” serves can be filled by better things.
Just as its not right to be discriminated against based on mental illness, I hope we can stop discriminating against ourselves. Your experiences and your behaviours are only a part of your journey through life. They may contribute to shaping your character but they are not part of your character.