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Who Am I? The Initial Shock and Steps to Finding your Identity Post-Diagnosis

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You’ll hear this phrase a lot:

Your diagnosis doesn’t define you.

These aren’t the worst words someone could say to you. In varying forms of ignorance and hurtfulness I’ve been told:

  • You don’t look like you have bipolar disorder
  • That’s a lot to take in
  • I don’t think I can do this

These comments and their countless variations cut deep. By comparison, the saying “your diagnosis doesn’t define you,” isn’t so bad. It usually comes from the mouth of someone who is trying to be a source of positivity in your life. They utter it for encouragement.

The problem I have with those five little words is that they don’t begin to cover the depth of the experience that occurs when you’re labelled, and the confusion they add to an already struggling mind.

The Unsettling Feeling of Not Knowing Who You Are

As a person whose world has just been turned on end, the words “your diagnosis doesn’t define you” aren’t as comforting as they are intended to be. Not when you’re questioning everything you thought you knew.

I thought I was normal. Why me? Maybe the doctors are wrong. Now that I’m on medication, I don’t feel like myself. Who am I?

While a part of you is relieved to have a name for what you’re experiencing, another part of you is in disbelief. And through it all you’re trying to distinguish how you can have a mental illness and not let it define you.  Because it is a part of you. It is something you’ll learn to battle, to live with, and to manage for the rest of your life. So how can this illness, that in many ways is a large part of your world right now, not come to define you?

Steps to Regain Your Identity and Take Back Control

When I was first diagnosed, I went through a whole range of emotions. I didn’t understand why. I thought life was unfair. I wanted to just be me. But who was I anymore? These feelings popped up again when my diagnosis was called into question. I went from knowing I had bipolar disorder to wondering if I had borderline personality disorder. It was a rollercoaster of doubts all over again. Unfortunately, there is not an easy step-by-step guide on how to deal with a situation like this. If there was, I’m sure it’d be a bestseller. As it is, here are a few pieces of advice you can try from someone who has lived through a shift in identity not once, but twice.

1. Grieving is okay – for a while

It isn’t everyday your world is shattered. Allow yourself to feel the weight of your emotions. Anger, sadness, frustration, and pain are a part of the process. Don’t bottle up your feelings. They’ll only come to bite you in the butt later on. While there is no set time for grieving, don’t dwell in your pity, either. It is important to get up every day and keep living life.

2. Remember what you Love to Do

There is power in your hobbies and passions. They are a part of who you are. They are a reminder in a time when it seems like so much has changed that not everything has. You still like to do the same activities you always did. At your core you are still you.

Let’s say you love to envision an idea in your head and see it come to fruition. Maybe it’s time to break out the blueprints and build something. Does a good long run make you feel better? Lace up your tennis shoes and hit the track. Been awhile since you heard the soothing sounds of a piano? Dust off those song books and press some keys.

Maybe it’s time to try a few new activities, too. Check out events, classes, and local happenings using Facebook Events or a quick Google search. This is also a great way to meet new people.

3. Lean on your Support System

Chances are there are at least a few people who are rooting for you and have been there for you through this challenging time. Ask them what they love most about you. This points out the positive qualities you have. You could also try this using your social media account to ask a similar question. Sometimes it’s surprising who will respond.

4. Know your Goals are still Attainable

Let me say that one more time. Your goals are still attainable. The path to getting there might look a little different. There might be more struggles and more challenges you have to face, but believe me, you can do whatever you set your mind to. You can make it through college. You can find love. You can hold down a job. Half the battle is mindset. Approach all of your objectives believing you can achieve, and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

5. Ride out the Storm

Healing doesn’t happen overnight. Finding out you have a mental illness for the first time isn’t easy. Nor is finding out your diagnosis has changed from what you were first told. These are both bombshells that take more than a few days to process. Expect to have some rainy days along with your sunny days. Give yourself time to process everything you’ve been told.

6. Find a Good Counselor

When you’re having trouble working through the diagnosis on your own, maybe it’s time to find a counselor. They are there to help, after all. Not only can they help you come to terms with your diagnosis, they can help you with other aspects of you illness too.

Your Illness is only one Piece of Who You Are

You are so much more than your illness. You are smart, talented, and beautiful. You have so much to offer the world. Don’t let your illness deter you from chasing your dreams and becoming who you are meant to become. Follow the steps above and you’ll be on the road to success in no time. If there are steps that you found to be particularly helpful or if there any methods you’ve used to find yourself again that aren’t on this list, be sure to let us know in the comments section.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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Author Bio: Katelyn Marie Hamil is a freelance writer and blogger for hire. She graduated from Mount Marty College with an English writing degree. Her website is www.kmhwrites.com.


Photo by Zachary Nelson on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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