Do your problems happen to be part of you? Or do they define you? I had to ask myself these questions last July when I faced the diagnoses of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Was I bipolar? Was I borderline?
I have these challenges, but these challenges are not who I am. I’m not asthma, after all, and I have that, too. Who in their right mind would tell me I need to identify as my asthma to be empowered? I need to keep in contact with my doctor, take my medications, and keep an eye on my lung function, but saying I am my asthma?
It just sounds ridiculous.
So why do we do it with mental disorders? I’m bipolar. I’m borderline. Just so you know, I cringed typing both of those. How can we possibly learn to separate our core selves from our symptoms if we identify AS our disorders? It doesn’t make much sense, does it? It also leaves us open to using our disorders and illnesses as crutches and excuses to avoid leading the strongest, healthiest lives possible.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying positive thinking can cure whatever challenges you face. I have never walked in your shoes and never lived your life. I have bipolar, and no amount of positive thinking will reverse the biochemical causes of my mood instability. It is my responsibility to see to my daily medications, my diet, my exercise regimen, my daily sleep schedule, and other lifestyle aspects that can help stabilize me and control my disorder. All these things allow my core self to shine through and prevent my symptoms from controlling my life, just like my daily steroid pill and rescue inhaler keep my asthma from closing my bronchioles and hospitalizing me or worse.
My bipolar and my asthma are very different in many ways. In a few ways, they are not so different. Both have hindered my life in previous years. Both have gotten out of control without the help of qualified professionals and medication. Both have gone unnoticed and undiagnosed for varying lengths of time. And neither one of them are me.
So I’ll leave you with this thought. You may have problems. You may have some pretty deep, severe, and abiding problems. I promise you, you are not your problems. You can choose to be stronger than they are. Ask for help. Do the work. Overcome. Thrive.