I’m Not My Illness

When I was first under adult mental health services, I was very much in denial. After my first psychiatrist appointment I went into work and cried to my boss because I’d been diagnosed with bipolar. I would always refuse my meds and that carried on for about 2 years. I lost a lot of my early 20s because of mental illness.

Looking back on that is actually quite sad. I was in a completely messed up mind-set for a good 4 years of my life. The first time I went into a psychiatric hospital, I was 21 and I was dreading it. But the more and more I went in, it was almost like I craved it. It was a secure cotton wool blanket where I had constant company and no responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong, there were times that I hated it but I felt a sense of community while I was in there and it was interesting hearing other peoples’ stories.

I also wanted every diagnosis under the sun. Since about the age of 12, I’ve been really fascinated by mental illnesses and would spend hours researching different diagnostic criterion. I was quite excited when I was diagnosed with BPD because it felt like another little box I could fit in. Same goes for when I was told I had my autism diagnosis taken off me. I was genuinely gutted. It had been a prominent part of me for 7 years and I felt a bit lost. My whole identity was formed based on my mental (and neurodivergent) conditions.

Living in supported accommodation hasn’t helped. I get congratulated by the support workers for going to the shop on my own or cleaning my flat, all of which I am perfectly capable of doing. I do get anxious sometimes, especially when it’s dark, but I’m not going to get anywhere unless I push myself through it. It also doesn’t help that all my friends who live here are also consumed by mental illness; blaming everything on the meds and reminiscing about various hospital admissions.

So here we are today. I’m spending pretty much all my time on my own because of the lockdown and it’s been nice. I’ve had a lot of time to think and re-evaluate what I want out of my life. I’m spending less time in the ‘mental health bubble’ and more time doing things I enjoy. Things that I probably would’ve avoided, just in case I became unwell. I also feel I’m in a different stage of recovery than most of the people I live with, which makes conversation hard because all we have in common is mental health conditions. I’m ready to move on to the next stage of my life.

The main thing lockdown has shown me is that I’m more than my illnesses and they don’t define me as a person. It’s also taught me that not everyone wants stability. I used to be like that. When you’ve been ill for so long, the thought of being stable is scary. You don’t know who you are anymore or who you’ll be if you’re not clutching on to your mental illness. One day you might come out of that mind-set. You might not and that’s fine as long as you’re content.

But for me, there’s more to life than labels.

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