Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Am Not My Illness

In the past couple of groups that I have attended, the discussion of  identifying ourselves as our illness, has been brought up.  For those of us who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, who are in the process of being diagnosed with a mental illness, or who are in recovery for a mental illness, it is sometimes a difficult balance to figure out who were are as individuals, and who we are because of our mental illness.
When a new member joins the group, we have a process of going around the room and introducing ourselves.  More often than not, we state our name, and our illness.  It's not just that we state our illness, it's that we identify as our illness.  "I'm Mary, and I am bipolar." or "I'm Mike, and I am schizophrenic."  If this were a group for people with an illness other than a mental one, the likelihood is that people in that group wouldn't go around saying "I'm Mary, and I am cancer." or "Hi, I'm Mike and I am diabetes."  For some reason, in a group filled with  people diagnosed with all sorts of different mental illnesses, we become our diagnosis.
The past few groups have been different though.  We collectively made a decision to "reintroduce" ourselves, as individuals who are something other than just our diagnosis.  The adjectives that were used ranged from smart, funny, creative, courageous, compassionate, friendly, a good listener, sympathetic, and outgoing.  It was amazing to hear all the same people who, at the beginning of the group, described themselves in a slightly negative light, were the same people who were able to shed a positive light onto themselves.
After the first group that we practiced this in, I noted how uplifted I felt.  How accomplished, and proud I was.  I felt proud of the other group members, too.  Not only because of how challenging it is to come up with a list of positives about yourself, on the spot, but because each one of us said something completely different than everyone else.  For a group of people who share the common diagnosis of "mental illness," I was able to see what a dynamic group of unique individuals we all are.  By removing our diagnosis from our introductions, we were able to see who we really are...human beings.

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