Me Without Mental Illness
I often wonder who I would be without Mental Illness. Most people are not faced with mental health challenges until some amount of time after they are born. Unfortunately, some people have never known a world without illness. I have never known a world without Mental Illness. I can not say if I am naturally outgoing, because I have never known life without terror caused by my social anxiety. I would be able to tell you how I would be without depression, since that came at the age of 13, but my Dissociative Disorder has broken my childhood into pieces, and I don't know how that child would truly behave day to day. I could not tell you what life would be like without abuse, as I have never lived in a world where daily abuse wasn't a rite of passage. I wish I could say I know what memories for people without Mental Illness look like, but I can't. I don't know how non-ill brains function. I have only known a world of illness.
I often have conversations with individuals in my life about love, compassion, and survival, and I find myself so very different than they are. Those things are defined through the traumatic events of my life, and they are morphed. Of course, I am not saying that I am entirely misunderstood by the world or anything like that. I am saying that I yearn to know what a world without Mental Illness looks like.
This is not to say that if there was a magic pill for my mental illness to disappear I'd take it. This is saying that if there was, and I did take it, I don't know what, of me, would be left behind.
I am not alone in this. One of the main factors of why individuals do not readily seek Mental Health treatment is the fear of disappearing. If I am me because of the Mental Illness, then everything I have accomplished, everything I have, is also due to that Mental Illness. My superpowers are because of my Mental Illness. My problem solving and survival skills are due to my Mental Illness. I am because of my mental illness.
Many people will disagree with that last statement. I am because of so many things, but Mental Illness is a key component to that, and I am not me with even a single component change.
I have lived a long 22 years of Mental Illness, multiple forms of trauma, multiple stages of Suicidality, and so much more. I have seen support in different countries for these things, and how different individuals react. Unfortunately, despite people's best intentions, many view my lack of treatment as giving up, and not reaching for something better. They don't understand that I have tried things, and I am at peace with my mental illness. The times I need additional support, personally or professionally, are when I am dealing with oppression or severe unhealed trauma. But even those things are hard to let go of.
So no, just because I live with Anxiety and Depression (and so much more) and I'm not going to therapy every day doesn't mean I'm giving up. I am giving up when I do not see the hope in healing, and those are two very different things.
Mental Illnesses can be a part of who we are. They can help develop our superpowers and strengths. They can help make us who we are. And that's not a bad thing. The reason I differentiate between Illness and Trauma and pain, is because even after healing we might still live with a Mental Illness. Our identities can be inspired by our Mental Illness.
Healing will never take anything away from you that needs to be there. You will not dissapear if you are healed, you are far more than that. So, no, I don't know who I would be without those things, but healing from trauma and the scars left behind from oppression will not eliminate a part of me, regardless of how early they were afflicted. They will help uncover more of me.
Many individuals ask me how can they support a person with Mental Illness when they feel like the person is not doing enough. Here are a few tips, to remember, that I'd want others to use for me:
- Understand that you DO NOT get to define what is proper treatment for me. Not Trusting individuals with Mental Illness and other Disabilities is one of the main forms of oppression people unconsciously use. Just because you have an illness does not mean you don't retain autonomy over your life.
- You DO NOT get to define which aspects of my life I identify with. This is a common problem for the majority of minorities. People often see a problem with identifying with an identity that has historically been viewed as negative. We are all free to identify in whichever ways we need to.
- It's not easy to watch the ones you love suffer due to their identities, and it's easy to blame them for it. But it is never their fault. Check out this article I wrote about oppressing the oppressed.
- Remember that sometimes we have no choice. I am currently on short term disability leave from work. As far as work, insurance, and all the doctors are concerned, I have a disability. Society views me as Disabled. It's the same way for other identities. I can't remove myself from my Muslim identity with ease, since it's right there in my name.
What are some tips you have for others supporting you with your identities of choice?
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Founder and Executive Director of Life in My Days. An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, and a Novelist. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on twitter, instagram or facebook.