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How has diagnosis affected your sense of self?

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As part of Be Kind to Your Mind, we asked young people who've lived with mental illness questions about their experience. Here's what they told us.

Adriana

At the beginning I found it really difficult to separate myself from the diagnosis and I felt quite defeated. But with research and further understanding how and why these things happen, I was able to separate myself from the diagnosis (I call it a ‘process of othering’). It allowed me to objectively assess symptoms and take positive actions, rather than letting the symptoms take control of me.

Kat

I both relish and despise my diagnoses at the same time.

There is a part of me that feels so liberated knowing that there is a name for what I am experiencing, that it’s not all in my head. It’s also comforting to know that I’m not the only one who is struggling. I feel proud to have a community of people around me that know exactly what I’m going through.

It is definitely a part of my identity and I feel very strongly about my diagnoses, even if there are many of them. As I took a long time to be diagnosed with anything, due to not really fitting in one box, it is liberating to put a name on what is wrong.

In terms of identity, I struggle with knowing who I am so having a label is quite useful in figuring that out. On the other hand, it can be quite stifling to be put in these boxes as people assume they understand your experience.

In fact no two people experience a diagnosis the same way. It also can feel like a negative part of my sense of self, something wrong with me, so that can be quite challenging to sit with.

Finn

I’m scared I’ll ruin my relationships with people. On top of complex mental illness, I have autism. Together they make it difficult for me to maintain healthy relationships. I push friends away through paranoia that they hate me, or not understanding their feelings or even just being so focussed on my own wellbeing that I neglect theirs.

I also struggle to communicate with them, causing a lot of misunderstandings that result in frustration and tears. It’s something I am still working on, but it’s an ongoing process of learning.

TJ

When I was first diagnosed I was confused about what that meant about me as a person. I didn’t feel positive about it and spent some time being in denial about what having that diagnosis meant.

Now I find that my diagnosis has been important in allowing me to have a better understanding of certain behaviours and thoughts and to not allow them to define my character. My diagnosis helps me to understand and manage my disassociation and mood swings in particular.

I find myself irrationally angry about small things at times and understanding my diagnosis allows me to understand why but also how to keep a calm head and not let that anger take a hold of me and affect what I’m doing.

My diagnosis has also allowed me to understand what disassociation is and how to cope with that. I’m more conscious of my emotions and the impact that they can have on my interactions with others.

Having that diagnosis also explained why I am so worried about the idea of rejection and people leaving me. This has been hard to face but has allowed me to have more open and healthy relationships with my friends and family by understanding my diagnosis and the symptoms that I experience.

Tilly

Distinguishing my sense of self from my diagnosis is what’s most important. I am not bipolar, bipolar disorder does not define me, nor control me. I am myself, a unique individual just like everyone else, with good qualities and weaknesses. I, like many other people have a permanent medical condition.

Mine happens to be a complex mental illness. It does not speak for who I am. Sure, parts of my experience with bipolar have shaped some of my values, attitude and positive attributes but they are part of a wider story.

I am not my disorder and my diagnosis is simply a diagnosis of a medical condition that I manage, and has led me to a variety of unique insights and experiences.

Josh S

Having a mental health diagnosis has had a significant impact on my sense of self. It has made me question not only my ability to function as a member of this society but my very sense of self-worth as well.

A diagnosis of mental illness has the power to give you one hell of a beating. My advice is not to allow that to happen. How? A medical diagnosis should not be allowed to define you, even if it concerns your mental state.

What constitutes your ‘self’ is associated with your current mental state, but remains an entity quite separate. Remember that.

Sophie

At times, I’ve read blogs or self-authored pieces from people who have experienced a brief episode of mild mental illness.

They were once sick and at the time of writing, they were well. They were ‘back to themselves’. That can be a frustrating and alienating narrative arc to read when developmental trauma has interrupted the very process of who that self was meant to be; a sense there was a stable, centred, solidified personality before becoming ill.

In the case of many stories I’ve read, the embrace of a former self was the indicator of wellness, and celebrated.

In my experience of complex mental illness and developmental trauma, the ability to return to a former self does not exist, because barely a skeleton framework existed.

My diagnoses are explained to me in the context of my developmental trauma. The focus is not on what is wrong with me, but rather, what happened to me. My psychiatrist normalizes my symptoms by explaining that in light of what I have experienced, my symptoms make total sense.

Diagnosis puts a name to what I experience, explaining and investigating why I struggled immensely with a lack of sense of self as a child and adolescent. This place of processing has created the room I’ve needed to grow and connect with a sense of who I am.

Erin

Receiving my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder gave me a great sense of relief and validation.

I had been struggling with mental ill health for many years before I was diagnosed with something greater than anxiety and depression, so for me, it felt like I was finally heard and that my struggles with mental ill health were validated. It put me on the right path to the specific therapy I needed to help me live a more stable life.

I am very grateful for my diagnosis as it means that I can forge my path of recovery much more clearly and effectively.

'Be Kind to Your Mind' is an initiative of SANE Australia supported by Future Generation Global, in partnership with batyr.

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