I’ve mostly steered clear of the controversy surrounding The Mighty, and I intend to continue doing so, but due to my job I end up reading quite a few things from The Mighty, and the other day I stumbled on to this post, that suggested people put “mental illness” low on their list of identities.
This is an attitude that I see in lots of places. People suggest that I don’t let my mental illness define me, or that I should focus on other things. Even more often I see people frustrated with the insistence I have on labels. “You’re more than the diagnosis,” or “one word can’t define you,” or my favorite “why are you letting people box you in?” It seems like a lot of people think that embracing your mental illness means living in negativity.
I don’t think it would surprise many people to know that one of the things I identify most strongly as is mentally ill. I bristle when people tell me that this means I’m limiting myself, being negative, or letting the mental illness “win” in some fashion. Here’s the truth: accepting and paying attention to an important fact about myself is not negative or limiting. My mental illness has a big impact on my life. To say that it isn’t an important and integral part of who I am is to lie.
But more than that, mental illness is not exclusively negative. Yeah, depression and anxiety have fuuucked me over more than once. But my anxiety makes me a truly badass worker. My depression makes me compassionate. My BPD makes me empathetic. To take away those elements of my personality isn’t just to take away things that hurt me but also to irreparably change me and the awesome person I am. This is a basic tenet of neurodiversity, and I strongly stand by the fact that if my brain wasn’t the weird place it is, I would not be depressed but I also wouldn’t be as badass as I am.
Beyond all of the philosophical stuff, there’s also the huge elephant in the room that in terms of things I have to pay attention to, my mental illness is bigger than any other element of me. Just as I would with any other chronic illness, I have to take my meds, I have to pay attention for changes, I have to see my doctor periodically, and I have to continually take care of myself with exercise, self care, socialization, and writing to keep my mood up and my brain in a place of rationality and stability. If there was another element of my life that took up hours every day of my life then maybe I would identify more strongly with that, but there isn’t, so mental illness it is because in reality it’s what affects me.
Understanding that a huge part of who I am involves the care I have to take with my own mind isn’t negative. It’s not giving in to anything. It’s not ignoring or downplaying the great things I do. It’s recognition of reality. Mental illness is a huge part of my life. It affects everything from how I dress (thanks eating disorder) to how I eat (seriously, thanks eating disorder) to how I exercise (jesus eating disorder) to how I think (phew, at least this one’s depression and anxiety) and how I feel (woohoo BPD!). It affects my relationships, it affects what I consider fun, it affects how I socialize. How is that not important? Why should I feel ashamed of an aspect of myself because it happens to be something that oftentimes is a challenge? I cannot think of a single other identity that affects all the elements of my self so strongly.
So yes, I will continue putting “mentally ill” at the top of my list of self identifiers, along with nerd, writer, and social justice warrior, because these are the things that I pay attention to each and every day. It is healthy and important for me to include my mental illness on that list. If I don’t pay attention to it, then there’s every likelihood that I will end up in the nastydepressed place that is truly dangerous. But more than that, I am not ashamed of it. I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t incredibly important because it’s supposedly negative, or involves stigma. THAT is letting the mental illness win.
My bio will continue to read Olivia, cryingface depressed sometimes, writer extraordinaire, weirdo. Can’t stop, won’t stop.