Defined: More than a Mental Illness
How do you navigate being diagnosed with a mental illness?
Maybe you or someone close to you has been recently diagnosed with a mental illness. Being given a diagnosis is a huge change for many people. For some, it is a sigh of relief, as their symptoms finally make sense to them and they understand what has been going on. For others, the new diagnosis is like another load on them, weighing them down.
“I am my mental illness”
Some of the people who find themselves weighed down and upset by this new diagnosis may begin to identify the mental illness as part of who they are. Eventually they find themselves finding their identity as their diagnosis, saying things like “I am my mental illness”. Most won’t be so explicit, but rather, will begin to act in ways that follow the diagnosis’s characteristics and attribute their behavior as something that they cannot control--it is just who they are.
Closely identifying with a mental illness can become really dangerous. While it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a diagnosis you receive, it is important to understand that while it is something you are experiencing, it is not who you are. This is an important distinction to make, especially in terms of recovery. If someone closely identifies with a diagnosis, they may be really afraid of life without that label because that’s who they have known themselves to be. Similarly, it can complicate treatment when someone sees certain actions or behaviors as a part of them, rather than something that they can manage and change.
More than a Mental Illness
The fact of the matter--no matter what the diagnosis is, you are so much more than just a diagnosis. You are a person. You have certain talents and passions. You have certain hobbies and favorite foods. You have your quirks. You have all kinds of things that make you, you. Identifying as just a diagnosis takes so much away from who you really are. Yes, it may be something that affects certain things. But with time, many symptoms and behaviors can be managed and changed, and diagnoses can too. What remains after it all, is you.
If you or someone you love has been recently diagnosed with a mental illness, we encourage you to seek out support and to begin therapy. Speaking with a trained clinician can help you to explore how you’re feeling, figure out what you want to achieve, and be a huge support as you navigate this new change.