More than an illness.

Sometimes mental illnesses can become so overwhelming, so all-encompassing and bold, that it can feel as though we have lost our entire selves to their entity.

During the deepest, most destructive stages of an illness, everything can feel subdued, isolated, and lacking in richness; colour. What would usually mean the world to us could become meaningless, or be a source of pain and guilt. Feelings of unworthiness and of not being good enough, to be worthy of good things in our lives, show their sneering faces.

It’s not as though any part of who we are is necessarily taken away, but rather that there is a heavy filter over ourselves and all we experience. A thick raincloud that buckets down abuse, regardless of if we are walking beneath the sun. 

Through learning how to live a full, rich life alongside whatever is going on in our brains, whether this be recovery, healing, or any word you wish to use to describe your journey, these filters can fade. They may always have a presence in our lives, but they will not always dictate our experiences, and who we become.

Something that both the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and being deeply unwell with one, have in common, is that we can be told, whether it’s by ourselves or from others, that this is who we are. That we are depression, anxiety, self-harm, the whole shebang! That our experiences from a particular time, while being unwell, defines who we are. That our potential is tethered and capped by the arms of the mental illness. That mental illness is who we are, and who we will be.

The day that I asked my closest friends if they would like to be my bridesmaids was during my recovery. We went out to a cute little cafe, and it was the first time I had eaten out with them in about four years, and one of the first handful of times I had eaten with them at all. After we were done, I got a message from my best friend, saying that in all honesty, she didn’t think she would ever see that day come. She also said how proud she was of me, and how far I had come.

This is a person who had seen me at my worst, for years. Who saw me refusing to get help again and again, and saw how it tried to destroy everything in it’s path. Who saw me make up lie after lie after excuse as to why I couldn’t go to to certain events, and who saw my anxiety bubble over countless times when food was present. Her message meant so much to me, and to be honest, I didn’t think that day would ever come either. Of being able to do something as normal as going out to eat brunch with your best friends. 

That day gave me so much hope. And it still does, thinking back. Because when you are utterly consumed by a mental illness, it can feel as though you are the embodiment of it. That your entire past, present and future will be tormented. There is no light, there is no hope. Your horrors are all that you are.

Well I’m here to tell you that this isn’t true.

You are so much more than an illness.

Remember that the illness resides in your life, rather than you within it.

Here I am.

My name is Kaitlyn, and I experience depression, an anxiety disorder, and dermatillomania. I have largely recovered from an eating disorder and self-harm too.

This things are part of me, but they aren’t all that I am.

And that’s the same for you too.

There was a time in my life where they felt as if they made up so much of me. But it’s important to note that they weren’t everything.

I am so much more than some of the stuff that goes on in my head.

And you are too.

Think of all those little moments where you feel wonder to be alive, of all the songs you sing along to, of all the people that bring you joy.

Think of the flower that catches your eye, of what you gravitate towards, of what makes you laugh.

Think of all the times you have helped others, of when you have accomplished hard things, of when you have been honest.

This all helps to build up you too.

You can be everything beyond what mental illnesses say you can be.

You are so much more than a label.


Labels and you; who is who?

Having labels can be both really detrimental, and really helpful. To label a collection of symptoms, it becomes defined and certain. It is steadfast within the limits of the diagnosis.

In the mental illness world, having the right diagnoses enables you to get the right treatment and support. However, beyond this healing work, labels can also work in a very different way.

They can make you feel confined within the limits of the word. Your symptoms become a cage, and you, the prisoner. You may feel that the line between the mental illness, and yourself, becomes blurry. Who is in control here?

Silhouette of Woman Leaning on Metal Railings With Background of Body of Water by the Shoreline

They can also make you feel stuck and hopeless. The stereotypes attached to mental illnesses only serve to be detrimental; they are not constructive for healing. If there is a common, societal idea that self harm solely belongs to “attention seeking teenagers”, then it is difficult to exist beyond these limits of this stereotype.

They can make you feel inferior, and unworthy of treatment, especially if you are undiagnosed. With particular mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, comparison can play a large role. Knowing the stereotypes for this conditions, and blinded by the lies of the illness to placate you, can lead to the message of “I am not sick enough, and therefore I don’t deserve treatment.”

art, backlit, dark

Although, please don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the way that diagnoses allow for access to the right treatment. I am also thankful that they allow me to think in the way of “my brain is doing this thing in particular, and it is not who I am.” Finally, I am thankful because they provide closure in one way. They provide some answers to years of confusion, and enable moving to the next step.

However, sometimes I feel as though I am depression, I am anxiety, I am all these different words found in the DSM-5. I am overwhelmed by “what” I am, “what” I might be, and where I fit in. I hear all the words spoken in therapy, and know which ones are being delved into further, and quite frankly it scares me. Sometimes I wonder who I really am without it all.