I wrote this in response to a person I follow on tumblr. To put it bluntly, I think they’re trying to deal with accepting and integrating a diagnosis of depression into their self-perception. TW for talk about suicide. Oh and I’m referring to myself with that quote in the title.
Obviously I don’t know you personally, so please take alllllll of this with a big bag of salt.
We tend to think of most mental health diagnoses as a comment on or an amendment to a person’s identity. I think there are not unhealthy ways of thinking about it in such terms. Many people living with mental health issues are systematically oppressed and abused in various ways. One way to push back against this is to call people out when they make remarks that contribute to that system and say, “Hey, I’m one of ‘those’ people.” So I can see someone making their diagnoses a part of their identity as a way to increase awareness and/or as a refusal to be ashamed and silent about something that affects their life, and can do so in major ways.
But we have to work through the shame our culture drills into us to some extent to get to that point. We, as a culture, are really ignorant about mental health. Here are some things people do all the freakin’ time:
- Confuse terms and diagnoses
- Refuse to recognize some conditions as real
- Regard using prescription medications as a part of symptom management as dangerous, ineffective, a sign of weakness, etc.
- Treat mental health conditions like they’re just personal weaknesses/failures
- Disregard that symptom management is not an all or nothing endeavor and that a person’s ability to function can vary day-by-day (or even hour-to-hour)
- Assume all people with mental health issues are a potential imminent danger to others around them at all times
- Refuse to respect and support the personal autonomy of people with mental health issues
- Assume all people with mental health issues are incapable of making decisions for themselves or others at all times
- Ignore the fact that people with mental health issues are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it
That list goes on, and I could write whole lists for individual diagnoses. For example, depression is often regarded as not as serious as many other conditions, and people who live with it “just need to think more positively.” All of us have internalized this bullshit from our culture to one extent or another. Almost every person I’ve ever met who lives with depression believes or has believed at some point that it’s not REALLY serious unless and until they’re having suicidal ideation. Some not even then, some not even after attempting suicide. I’ve had people say to me, “It’s not as serious as, like, bipolar disorder.” Ha, I have bipolar disorder (and ADHD with a bonus side of GAD) and I will tell you that if you’re not functioning as well as you want to or need to, then YEAH, IT’S SERIOUS. We’re taught to doubt ourselves and diminish what we’re dealing with, and I hope more of us can learn to avoid doing those things as much as we can. They do not and will not help us in the long run – trust me on that one.
I know I often come across as pedantic, though my intention is not to condescend to tell you how you should feel. I didn’t start getting serious, effective help for my issues until I was 26 years old – after failing out of college, getting married and divorced, getting into a huge amount of debt, and experiencing a lot of harm and pain that likely could have been avoided had I been able to access the care I needed at younger age. I’m still dealing with a lot of anger toward my family for disregarding and ignoring my symptoms, and a lot of regret for not somehow getting the help I needed sooner. That’s why I talk about these things to others, especially anyone who expresses concern that they might be dealing with mental health issues. I want to encourage people to reconsider what they’ve been taught.
I can tell you that managing any health issue takes a whole metric fuck-ton of work on the part of the individual. It’s stupid hard. It can feel unfair that you have to do so much to get and try to stay as well as you can when most of the people in your life don’t. And a lot of those people won’t understand how much more effort it is for you, but some will. Even so, I now completely, wholeheartedly, 120% believe the work is worth it. My issues are not me – they contribute to my perceptions and behaviors and to the way I live my life, but they don’t define me any more than the sleep apnea I have or the HRT I do to decrease the body dysphoria I feel. I won’t ever be a ‘normal, fully-functioning’ person, and the prejudice and bigotry our culture perpetuates toward people with mental health issues will have a negative impact on my overall, long-term quality of life. In spite of that, I will try to do the best I can to make a life I feel is worth living.
You can too. I hope you find a way to think about the things that works best for you and that you always get any support you may need.