• Kristina Cherep

You Are More Than Your Mental Illness

Yeah, I'm sure you have heard this saying before. I'm not trying to claim that this idea is mine. Because it's not. I'm here to tell you my thoughts on why we may think this at first. This blog post was actually inspired by a 3-year-old. I will not use his real name due to privacy, so his pseudo name will be Sammy. Instead of calling him by his name all the time, I sometimes call him Sam, Samuel, cutie, and other nick names. Every time I don't call him Sammy though, he says something like "I'm not Samuel, my name is Sammy!" There are also times where I tell him that he looks handsome, cute, or that he is funny. When I tell him these things he will say something like, "No, I'm not handsome... I'm cool!"

To him he only thinks that he can be known as Sammy who is cool. He's three. He's still grasping the concept that he can be more than one thing and have nicknames. This makes sense because he was taught what his name was since he was born, so it's confusing when someone calls him something other than his name! He also loves the idea of being cool and he thinks he can only be one thing, which is not true. I'm trying to teach him that he can be many things. He is more than his one name and more than being cool, just like you are more than your mental illness!

It makes sense to feel like all you are is your mental illness. It's something that you didn't get to choose. It's something that your therapist may diagnose you with. To you, you may think you are your depression or your anxiety. I get it. It makes sense because sometimes it takes over every aspect of your life. It did and sometimes does for me.

One of the many things I appreciated from my therapist in my outpatient program was that he never told me that I had Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder until I asked. He could have. I'm guessing some therapists like to point that out to their clients once they figure them out. They may think that's what the person was looking for.

It's not though. At least not for every person. Some people aren't only going to their therapists to be told what they have, but to be told what they can do to overcome it. I remember someone in my group therapy asking my therapist why she was never given a diagnosis. She had been in the program for five weeks. She said that her psychiatrist said that she should have a diagnosis by now. When she said that I thought the same thing. I had been there for three weeks at the time and my therapist had never told me that I had Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

He told us that they aren't big into diagnosing people, but more into giving us the information about the different types of disorders and illnesses and then the strategies to overcome them. At the time this didn't make sense to me. However, now it does. Since he didn't tell me what I had within my first three weeks, I didn't identify with the name of my two illnesses as much. I identified more with the feelings I was having and the strategies to overcome those feelings.

Since I identified more with my feelings and strategies, I identified myself as a human who had resources to overcome my thoughts. He could have easily told me that I had Depression and GAD the first meeting we had. I'm sure. But, he didn't. He didn't want that to be the first identity I gave myself throughout this process. I am so glad that he did it this way. My first week of my outpatient program, I didn't think of myself as someone who suffered from Depression and GAD. I saw myself as a person who could relate to the people in my group therapy. I saw myself as a person who was struggling with my own feelings. I saw myself as a person who had a list of strategies that would help me.

One day, I asked my therapist and psychiatrist what I had exactly. At that time I was aware of the six different anxiety disorders. I had already identified with one in particular. I asked them if that was 'right' and they told me that it was. I also asked about my depressed feelings and view of myself. I asked them if I had Depression and they told me 'yes'. I'm no therapist or psychiatrist, but I feel like this is how it should be done! Obviously outpatient program is different from going to therapy once a week. I spent 40 hours a week, for six weeks, with my therapist that allowed him the time to do it this way. If you don't have this "luxury" then just remember you are much more than the diagnosis you are given!

Yes, I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression. No, that's not all that I am. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a cousin, a niece, a granddaughter, a nanny, a blogger, a poet, a retired athlete, an advocate, and much more. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts and feelings sometimes. No, that's not all that I am. I am kind, caring, loving, patient, stubborn, protective, athletic, creative, funny, sarcastic and much more. If you are still struggling with this concept or not, I suggest you get a piece of paper and a pen and write out all the titles that you have in your life. BESIDES your mental illness. I also want you to then write at least ten POSITIVE adjectives to describe yourself. Do it. You will feel better. Believe me. I do this exercise either on paper or in my head if I feel like my mental illnesses are trying to take over who I am.

The first time I did this exercise, I was in the first week of my outpatient program. They asked us to do a similar activity. I sat there with just my name down for who or what I was. I literally in that moment saw myself nothing other than my name. It wasn't until my therapist came by and asked, "Well aren't you a daughter? A wife?...." That's when I realized that my negative thoughts were trying to trick me into thinking that I was nothing! That's when I took a little control back and wrote down twenty things that I am. I started to gain my freedom back which was taken away by myself!

You are more than your mental illness. Always remember that even when your thoughts are trying to tell you otherwise. You are. More. You are so much more than your negative thoughts think you are.