I’m not sick, I have an Illness!   8 comments

The stigma of mental illness is one issue that ANY individual with a mental illness will have to face. It is such an issue that major nonprofit mental health organizations and government agencies, such as NAMI and SAMSHA, have developed policies and programs to battle it is society a whole.

I contend that there is an even greater stigma that an individual with a mental illness must address, the stigma and limitations which he/she places on himself/herself as the result of this diagnosis.  Many individuals, whether they are newly diagnosed or one who has battled mental illness for years, allow their mental illness to be the center of their identity. It is the “colored glasses” through which they look at the world and thus react or respond to it.

Let’s look a little closer at the statement that entitles this article, “I’m not sick, I have an illness.”  When you here someone say, “I’m sick”, what are they saying? I identify myself by my illness. My being “sick” is the defining characteristic of who I am.” “I’m sick”, so I can’t take care of myself or the house. “I’m sick”, so I can’t go to work today. “I am sick”, so I need someone to take care of me.  In other words, because “I am sick”, I make judgments regarding what I am capable or not capable of doing without even attempting them. “I’m sick” implies that I am powerless and I am the victim of my situation. I have heard it said that when someone says “I’m sick” it is like giving up and not believing that treatment and recovery are possible.

“I’m sick; I have depression, so I can’t find and keep a job.”

“I’m Sick; I’m Bipolar, so I can’t control my spending and risk taking behavior.”

On the other hand, if “I have an Illness”. The illness is something that affects me, but is not something that identify as defining who I am, or what I am capable of doing. By acknowledging “I have an Illness”, I admit that I need treatment and I need help, but it does not mean that I am the stuck in this condition forever. “I have an illness” implies that with treatment recovery is possible. “I have an illness” means that the illness is simply a part of my current state; it is not the totality of who I am.

When we maintain an “I’m sick” mentality, we often do not give ourselves the credit for the strength and abilities that reside within. We allow our “sickness” to steal our self-esteem and confidence and when we feel weak and vulnerable, we had rather limit our potential than to try ANYTHING and fail.

I have seen so many individuals who were much stronger and capable than they were willing to give themselves credit. Think about your own friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances who have a mental illness, how many of them do you know are stronger than and more capable than their choices and behaviors demonstrate? Have you limited yourself, due to your illness?

Please don’t get me wrong, mental illness is a great foe and can and does affected all areas of our lives: home, relationships, school, friends, work, etc. It is not an issue which we can simply do lip service and “sweep under the rug.” However, it is not the sole characteristic that defines or personality and identity. Let me illustrate.

In the first circle you can see how ones mental illness, is the focus of and individual’s identity and everything else about them is in seen through the illness. However, on the other hand, in the second circle we can see that the individuals Mental illness is still a part of the individual, but it is just that a characteristic or component of the identity.

We must grasp the control and power that we have given to our illness and choose apply it as we strive for the hopes and dreams that have long existed in our hearts and minds, but we would not allow ourselves to believe that we were capable of achieving them.

Once we begin to master the stigma within, then we actually become more comfortable in our illness and we are not ashamed or reserved in our interactions with others. We can openly and honestly provide education to those whom we encounter which treat us with stigma and discrimination because the are aware of our mental illness.

Education and open communication are the BEST weapons that we have as we battle the stigma that is without; but we must first and foremost conquer the stigma that is within!


8 responses to “I’m not sick, I have an Illness!

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  1. This article descibes my current situation perfectly. My self confidence is so low that I avoid going out if I can help it. I feel so fragile that another blow would do me in. I just feel safer at home, in my small world. I don’t know how to learn to trust myself again.

    It is much safer here. It is just a little lonely.

    • Dairyart,
      Please remember that you are NOT alone there are THOUSANDS, of us who stuggle day to day on this journey as well. Your ARE stonger then you feel right at this momment. Spend some time recalling your positive attibutes, write them down and turn them into self-affirming statemetns that you tell yourself everyday. Check out “Baby Steps” – Self-Esteem –
      http://wp.me/pStIZ-5s. Hope you find it helpful!

  2. I liked your link quite a lot. I agree with the idea that my behaviors are learned, at least to some respect. My current desire to hide from the world is learned for sure. I also believe that some things are inate, some things you are born with and some are not changed by will alone.
    I greatful for my partner, she reminds me that there is somthing within myself that is worth loving.

  3. Pingback: July’s Mental Health Blog Carnival: Stigma & Discrimination « Behind the Façade

  4. Pingback: I'm not sick, I have an Illness! (via Road To Recovery) | The Beauty of Being Untypical

  5. I feel the same way that Dairyart feels, so she’s not alone. I’m scared to leave the house, especially where I am now; and to travel on buses out of paranoia. I know this isn’t healthy but I can’t help it. Someday, I think, with therapy we can control this. Mental illness shouldn’t define who we are. We’re people too with feelings, hopes and dreams. I always wanted to be a pilot. I might not be able to fly commercially, but I intend to get my private pilot’s license!
    I tend to make music videos using planes to motivate myself and others in recovery as well as describing my feelings. Dairyart, I invite you when you can to check out my You Tube channel so you can see what I mean

  6. What an insightful article! I think we are all prone to over identifying with our illness’s at times, I certainly know I have, so it is important that we all know the paths that this will lead us too and the many self fulfilling prophecies that will rise up to devour us whole.

  7. Thank you, I’m grateful for your insight. Sometimes it is hard to think and live outside the box of ” identifying illnesses” I like the way the idea of our potential is stressed, beyond the stigma’s and limits we tend to put on ourselves. I think it’s equally important to stress how each individual is unique in his or her own way and have many talents to offer beyond the limits of these challanges. Thanks Gary!

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