In my experience, one of the hardest parts of struggling with mental illness is trying to separate it from who I am as a person. It’s hard to do, though, when the irrational thoughts can sound just like your own and your disordered behaviour is still your behaviour. I wrote about the importance of trying to think of your mental health as another component of your physical health a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t really touch on how much of an impact that can have on your self-identity.
Starting in high school, I’ve worked hard on trying to accept myself and love myself for who I am, inconveniences, flaws, and all. I’d been bullied when I was younger for who I was, and it made me really insecure. So, when my anxiety reared its head, I started to wonder how much of myself was really just symptoms. Because those anxious thoughts and actions really are my own, how can I separate them?
Was my conscientiousness really just anxiety? Do I try as hard as I do because I struggle to accept anything less than perfection? Am I only cautious and courteous because I worry too much about what would happen if I wasn’t? Did my urge to help care for others really just come from obsessive thoughts about what would happen if I didn’t?
Even worse was wondering how much of this ‘me’ that I had learned to love would disappear through treatment. I was so resistant to treating my anxiety for so long because I didn’t want to have to re-learn to love myself. I remember being happy to take antidepressants and treat my depression, but the idea of treating my anxiety was extremely unsettling. What if I lost who I am? Yeah, I’m not perfect, but I’ve accepted who I am, I’m used to this person, and I can defend this person.
So, what do I do if she’s suddenly someone different?
Now, maybe that first part isn’t as relatable to everyone, I get that, I think that I’m probably an outlier when it comes to mental illness and self-esteem — it’s hard as all hell, and honestly, I don’t know why I’ve been able to keep it up. But this idea of the thin line between your own personality and the illness works both ways — for the ‘good’ and the bad…
Have you ever wondered if you’re not really demotivated because of illness, but instead you’re just really a lazy person? Maybe you’re not irritable, fatigued, or depressed, you’re just a mean pessimist? I’ve had people tell me that I’m not, that it’s just the illness, but how do they know?
If I don’t know, surely they can’t. Maybe it plays into my fear of the unknown — isn’t the devil you know better than the entity you don’t?
Sometimes I can separate the sick thoughts from my own, but other days it gets really hard. Am I calling myself fat because I’m being realistic or is my depression getting down on me? Do I want to stay home because I’m really quite the homebody or is my illness just convincing me to stay hidden?
As someone who longs for nice, rational, systematic explanations, I can’t figure out how to find the line between the two. I want all of my life to fit into the nice, neat boxes that I’ve assigned it, but it’s pushing back.
Maybe, like my mom says, the answer is just for me to accept that it won’t be that way.
That possibility is another one that I’m really not a fan of. My brain starts buzzing when things don’t make sense to me. I have a tendency to get into a tizzy I just can’t escape trying to find a way for the problem to just make sense.
So, on top of not really being sure where I end and my illness begins, I’m fighting my brain off to force them into boxes that really don’t exist. In my mind, there should be a signal to let me know that this is for sure my illness; maybe a little red light in the corner of my vision or three short beeps on either end? Just give me a clue which box it fits in. Please.
Because what if I ‘get better’ but the things I liked disappear along with the things I didn’t? What if I have to fight to plan things or work hard? What if I have to constantly remind myself to be considerate and conscientious?
Can someone just, please, give me the answers? It’s all I want. I just want to know if it will be okay, for sure.
This week’s post doesn’t really have a big lesson or message, just something that’s been running through my head for a while… Do you ever get these thoughts too?