When you are diagnosed with a mental illness, the vocabulary that is often used to describe your symptoms usually includes the phrases, ‘you are severely depressed ‘ or ‘you are bipolar‘ or ‘you are highly anxious‘. The manifestations of our illness are frequently attached to who we are as individuals. By labeling us as depressed, anxious, manic people we begin identifying ourselves as just that. We start to lose our identities of who we were before being diagnosed and that is not okay. For other chronic illnesses or diseases such as cancer, asthma, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis the diagnosis is that you have it rather than you are it. So why is it that when it comes to mental illness we say that we are depressed and anxious? Yes, we are feeling those things but they are not who we are. We begin to minimize our strengths, qualities, goodness, and uniqueness every time we choose to express our symptoms in the first person.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder years ago. For all of that time I saw myself as a depressed and anxious person. It is very easy to fall into that trap when the narratives of our conscience are negative and manipulative. My mind is telling me that I am no good, that I have no value or purpose, and that I am a burden. The language I choose to express my emotional state validate those false identifications. In conversations with family and therapists, I am asked if I am depressed or anxious. The reinforcement of being my illness is around me constantly. It is almost impossible to escape it.
It wasn’t until about two years after my last suicide attempt that I began to think differently about my illnesses. Why was I allowing myself to be defined by them? For my entire life I had migraine and not once had I ever let that illness define me as a woman. I knew that it did not determine who I was or what I am capable of. Although I had to overcome many ignorant stigmas and loads of misinformation regarding my disease, I never allowed it to dictate how I perceived myself. If I am able to do that with migraine, then why can’t I translate that over to my mental illnesses?
I had determined that in order for me to feel differently about depression and anxiety I had to change the way I spoke about it to myself and others.
So, I began working really hard at changing the narrative of my symptoms and how they presented themselves. I looked at my depressed and anxious episodes as flare-ups. Just like arthritis, another chronic condition, I cannot always control when depression and anxiety flare up. And when they do I find myself feeling sad, withdrawn, overwhelmed, frustrated, aggravated and very anxious. Some flare-ups are small and less invasive while others can be monumental and extremely debilitating. By altering how I perceive and address each occurrence, it gives me permission to speak much more kindly to myself.
When I am overcome with feelings of anxiety or depression, it helps for me to discuss those feelings out loud with my husband. Although what I am feeling is irrational, the voice inside my head is so loud that it overpowers any helpful and positive thinking. Generating a positive narrative on my own becomes somewhat impossible.
By saying out loud what is transpiring in my head, I am able to receive positive affirmations and reinforcement from my husband to help quiet that negative voice.
Doing this makes me feel needy and burdensome at times, but the reason why I do it is to begin a new and positive narrative that will shut down the negative thoughts. By hearing my husband tell me of my good deeds, strengths, accomplishments, and worthiness after validating my irrational thinking, I am able to allow myself to receive those affirmations as truth.
The hypotheses and made up conclusions in my head are not real.
- I am not a failure or a screw up.
- I am not weak and useless.
I have done great things because of who I am as an individual. I was built to be this mother, wife, writer, patient advocate, and all-around kick ass woman.
This is who I am. I am not anxiety nor am I depression. They are things that are designed to make me question my purpose and value. Despite their best efforts, I am still and will always be ME. It is because I am strong that I am able to come out on the other side of debilitating anxiety and depression. It is because I am smart that I know what I am feeling is irrational and not true. It is because I am capable that I am able to seek help and get through the flare ups. It is because I am worthy of love and support that I can allow myself to receive it when I feel I don’t deserve it.
Nothing about who I am changes because I have mental illnesses.
And that is an awesome and relieving revelation.
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