Identity with a Mental Illness

Do you say, “I’m Bipolar” or “I have Bipolar Disorder”?  If someone asked you to write a description of yourself that only you would see, would an illness make it to the top parts of your description?  Do you think of yourself as “living with” an illness or “having” an illness? People answer these questions in different ways and as long as it works for the individual, I don’t think there is a wrong way think about it.

Despite there being no wrong answer, there is a more popular answer.  I often see people quickly correcting and defending against those who say they are bipolar.  I get this, it is important to know that you are a person who has an illness, but you are not that illness.  Someone isn’t diabetes, they have it. It can be important for many peoples recovery to be able to separate their identity from their diagnosis.

For me, personally, I fall on a different side of this.  I am bipolar just as much as I am a vegetarian. The only difference is one was forced on me by my brain chemistry and the other is a choice.  Both play a large role in my lifestyle. Because of my mental illness I have to account for ups and downs, I incorporate healthy activities into my life in an effort to maintain or create a healthy mindset.  The way I think about things is absolutely affected by being bipolar. I am able to enjoy simple things when I am feeling well because I have experienced so much mental instability. I have a great capacity to empathize with others due to knowing what emotional pain can be.  

I am as bipolar as I am a wife.  I go to my mental health appointments, often two a week, and I also go on dates with my husband.  I have this blog because I have my diagnoses, and I have my nights cooking with my husband because I am married.  The difference is that bipolar is not something I want, and my husband absolutely is.

I don’t want to be bipolar.  I don’t want to be an alcoholic.  But I am not ashamed of being either and for better or worse both have played a huge role in who I am.  That is why I say I’m bipolar.

3 comments

  1. I think those of us with mental illness should be able to identify ourselves in whatever way feels right, but I don’t think other people should label a person as being their illness unless that particular individual has already expressed that as their preference.

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    • Good point. That is a component I hadn’t thought about – how others label a person. I agree that others should not label a person with mental (or any) illness unless told otherwise by the person with the illness. And even though I identify as bipolar, I would not want someone to introduce me to someone else as their bipolar friend.

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  2. I find myself speaking in that way, that I am my disease. But you’re right about the cancer statement. Maybe it’s because bipolar stays with you your entire life. We can’t take a test and see a number and know with any certainty that we won’t have another manic episode. There is always a possibility that we might. I love the way you’ve said this. // betterbipolar.wordpress.com

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