If you change the wording a little, "Can you remember who you were, before mental illness told you who to be?" Does it sound a little more familiar?
I can, I have always been a creative person. I remember being 10 years old sitting on my bedroom floor making clothes for my Barbie's, or swinging on the front porch writing stories. I always had a book with me; spending summer vacations reading as many books as I could, the hours at the library made me feel alive. It was seen as the dabbling of a child though; no one put much thought into it or asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was told I was going to college and I would get a degree, get a job, get married and have babies. I called their bluff, however, and enlisted in the military; I wanted to be on my own, away from the world I knew. It never stopped my love of writing though, I continued - only no one knew. I kept it too myself, my secret, the person I really was.
Mental illness changes many things in life and it can be difficult to silence the voices that say this is as good as it will be, the past is over, the person who was, can no longer be. These are the lies that are transmitted with a diagnosis. It feels as if, with the doctor’s words, comes a badge that tells us nothing will ever be the same again.
While there is some truth to this way of thinking, it's not the whole story. A diagnosis of mental illness will change the future, that is true, but it cannot take away your past, the person you are deep inside. There will be new challenges, an unseen battle of the mind that can make the days more difficult, but it does not mean that you are different as a whole person; it is merely a different way of living and looking at the world.
This idea, however, does not come easy. With such a diagnosis there is the immediate fear of stigma and being ashamed, both of which are society’s perception. Life seems different and there is the question of how it will be now, medication, doctor visits, therapy. Do I tell people? Friends, family, work colleagues? These questions themselves are enough to add to the anxiety, but taking a step back can help bring it into perspective.
If a friend came to you and said they had received a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, what would you do? Think about that for a minute, what is the first thing you would do? For most of us we would hope that we would be supportive, and there is no doubt we would be, but would there be a second of doubt and uncertainty? Would you question, maybe for the first time who this person is? Have they changed in your eyes?
Now, look in the mirror - do you have these same questions about yourself? The diagnosis of mental illness not only creates doubt and uncertainty in those around us, but in ourselves as well. That is why we need to sit back and remember who we truly are, the person deep inside, whom we are at our core.
Growing up you may have wanted to be an artist, but society told you that it was not a lucrative career path, were they wrong, or was it only their opinion? With this new diagnosis, it will also be their opinion that you will hear. Maybe now will be the perfect time to start a new career, follow that dream you always thought you couldn't have. It can be seen as a new lease on life, a new beginning.
While this total shift in careers or life may not be possible for everyone, it does offer the chance to explore what is inside of us a little more. Creating a stronger and more resilient person than we ever thought we could be.