It’s a strange thing, defining who we are. If I were meeting someone for the first time, how would I introduce myself? “Hi, I’m Chris, and I’m …”. Well, what? Who am I? What am I, really?
Perhaps I would say that I’m an author. This would conjure thoughts of a solitary life, coffee by day and whiskey by night, pulling at my hair and crying in agony to the roof when I can’t craft the perfect sentence.
Maybe I’m a husband, and father to a teenage boy. Perhaps images of a middle-aged, slightly graying, sport-jacket-wearing gentleman with a taste for classical music spring to mind.
Or what if I’m just an anonymous face, a mystery blogger with few followers and fewer friends, who’s trying to get a message out there?
In reality, I’m probably all of the above. But these definitions, these labels … they don’t necessarily paint a complete picture. They are me, but they don’t define me. You see, there are labels that are placed on us by society, and there are labels we place on ourselves. The people I work with would probably define me as quiet, darkly humorous, compassionate with clients, kind and friendly. My family, however, might see it a little differently; they probably perceive me as someone who has very little energy, no motivation, and at times quite self-centered.
They’re both right; but how close are they to the truth—my truth? How do I see myself? And if I had to boil it down a single word, a single definition, without hesitation it’s this: depressed.
I have always been, and always will be, depressed. For better or for worse, it defines me, envelops me, dictates my thoughts and my craft, and makes me who I am. The psychological label that’s been currently assigned to me is bipolar type I, but in my head, I’m simply depressed.
And I know that this could be a narrow-sighted way of looking at things. I go to therapy; I take my medications; and it helps, it really does. It allows me to function. But it doesn’t take away my core, inner self: that defining depression. Without it I’d be lost, a nameless face in a vast crowd. Out of fear and anxiety I latched on to this idea, and it has become me; it comforts me.
When I spend time reading through the blogs and posts that deal with mental illness, I often see a common theme appear: a lack of identity. I see people who feel worthless; I see people who feel guilty for bringing down everyone around them. I’ve known people who find themselves with several identities, each with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. I once made the mistake of suggesting that some were ‘truer’ than others; I know now that personality disorders are a difficult thing to live with, and those of you who suffer can be severely damaged by ignorance like my own.
Most of all, I see people who are desperate to know what’s wrong with them, to find an answer to why no one seems to love them, why they’re so alone; to define their illnesses. Not necessarily to find a cure—there isn’t always a quick fix to these difficult mental health issues. Just an answer; something to fill the burning void of loneliness that says we’re alone, that no one in the world could possibly understand our suffering.
I can’t tell you I understand; I’m only just starting to understand my own illness. I can’t tell you the answer, or give you the cure. I can’t even tell you to seek help, because I know how hard it is to believe that help is there to be had.
But I do believe that defining what makes us ‘us’—finding a way to describe how we feel, how we suffer—can be the first step toward a greater understanding, toward finding a way to make it through the day without utter despair. If that means attaching a label to yourself—bipolar, depression, BPD—then just maybe that can give you something to focus on, and to fight against.
Because I can tell you that it’s never hopeless. The struggle might never end, and some days will be worse than others, but there is a way to make life livable. There is a way to find love, and acceptance. No matter how it feels, you are not alone. I hope you can see this note is proof of that: I’ve read your post, I’ve heard your words, and I’ve suffered with you. Keep talking; keep writing; keep reading. And maybe you’ll find that you don’t need to seek acceptance: you already have it.
You are never alone.