Illness Identity?

As usual, a simple plot line in a TV show sent me on a Google quest that further lead me down a rabbit hole that ranks right up there with mindfulness and cognitive behavior therapy, for me. Which is…nada. Anyway, I went to search for “why would a doctor prescribe only amitriptyline for bipolar disorder?” Because ya know, this was common in the 90’s but these days, it’s just shoddy medicine asking for a manic episode to be triggered and negligence suit to be filed. Been down the antidepressant-only road too many years, it isn’t pretty and the fact it’s referenced-even on a fictional Australian TV show- irks me.

Anyway, while Googling this, I came across an article about how bipolar disorder is wrongly treated so frequently. In the course of reading that article, I encountered an unfamiliar term. “illness identity”. Though not popular theory (yet) in the mental health field, it essentially means that people with a mental health diagnosis often develop their illness(es) as part of their identity thus it impacts their self esteem and ability to be in relationships, hold a job, be a parent.

So in my new quest for self awareness I spent the entire day Googling some more and soul searching. Is that me? I mean, I sure do talk a lot about my disorders. But then this is a mental health blog meant to share my experiences, to educate, and often, just for me to vent the poison in my mind so it doesn’t boil over. Does this mean I have come to identify myself solely as my depression/bipolar/anxiety diagnosis symptoms? Am I self sabotaging by being on disability because I let fear and stigma convince me I’m unemployable?

I suppose anything is possible. The moon just may be made of blue cheese. And I’ve met some people who do seem to base their lives and choices around whatever diagnosis they have, though in their case, it’s generally physical ailment.

I just don’t see it with me. I NEVER wanted to go on disability. I worked from the time I was 16 and when I was stable or manic,I was a powerhouse. Then splat or nervous breakdown would come and I was no longer the employee they needed me to be and yeah, my disorders created many problems and made me an unstable candidate for employment. I kept trying, for years, and years, and years. It was the therapists who watched me fly so high than crash so low, who saw how great I was when functional, how brutal it was when non functional. They told me it was admirable to want to work but I was doing myself more harm burning through jobs and getting bad references and never knowing if I could pay rent so I needed to protect myself and seek disability.

So did I let them get in my head and instead of continuing to fight, I just gave up?

I think how long I tried to hold on and help R at the shop through multiple breakdowns indicates I have never given up, do want to work and be productive and feel good about myself, and I do not define myself by my disorders. My illness is a factor in my daily life, much like a diabetes, blood sugar testing, insulin, and pills are part of a diabetic’s life. Are they guilty of illness identity if they talk about their numbers or diet or medication side effects? Or if they know a certain activity overtaxes them so they limit their participation? No. But we all know the putrid double standard when it comes to physical illness verses mental disorders.

Aside from not being stable enough to hold a job and blogging about my experiences with these disorders…

My life goes on pretty normally. I have never given up on being a parent or maintaining a home of our own. I recently applied for summer babysitting but for some reason, was rejected by the lady who was looking for a caregiver for her son. I cook, clean, take care of the cats, go grocery shopping, occasionally go to a yard sale or two or take my kid to the park or for a bike ride. All the while I AM riding out mood swings, depressive lows, and crippling anxiety. It is difficult and many days, I do have meltdowns. The difference is, my kid and cats can’t fire me for my instability. If I need a break, I can get a sitter at my family’s and I can close my bedroom door to keep the cats at bay. In job situations when you ‘snap’ or ‘splat’ there is no corner to go stand in until you work through it. And other than failing to show up one day or failing to give proper notice or missing too much work- I doubt my former employers would have much critical to say about my work except for the depressive periods or panic meltdowns.

But that’s their job, to hire not just partly functional people. They need stability and I can’t offer that consistently. So while I do want to be well and stable and work…If I am deemed unfit and it’s not simply stigma from my mental illness but the fact that such situations, combined with my disorders, lead to meltdowns…I can’t fault employers and I don’t think I should be faulted, either. It’s not like I don’t try my hardest and keep trying.

I suppose it all sounds like justification, like I am trying to convince myself, but I am honestly viewing it as objectively as possible. Even though I am far from stable and a summer with my own kid nearly drives me to the bring, I was willing to babysit for extra money. I was polite, I gave references, a reasonable rate, the kid likes me, I am close by…but I was still rejected. Instead of blaming it on my disorders or being defeatist, I just view it as being an outsider in this town and people may know my dad and his faction but they don’t know me and I can respect not wanting to leave your child with someone you don’t know, or who, for whatever reason, gives you a bad vibe. (I’ve heard of people not being hired because of their eye color making someone uneasy, never work in management, you find out the law is a joke, it’s largely based on personal bias and quirk.)

It just bothers me that I try so hard yet am constantly filled with so much self doubt. This is normally where I’d say, “Hey, counseling might help.” Except the new ‘behavioral health’ concept has me so rattled on top of my prior bad experience at that center, the idea of seeking ‘help’ there when they caused me so much damage is met with as much horror as a lobotomy. Unreasonable? Maybe. But until I ‘get there’ to that mental stability spot where I don’t feel they will do more harm…I am just going to have to be my own cheerleader.

Yes, I am a manic depressive. I have anxiety disorder.

It’s not who I am.

I am a woman. I am a single mom. I am a cat owner. I love Halloween. I love heavy metal, crime shows, horror movies, black eyeliner, yard sales, and I say ‘fuck’ a lot.

That all has nothing to do with my disorders. That is my identity.

And the fact that six weeks ago I could have never thought that, let alone felt it, meant it, and write it- tells me we may be onto something with the Cymbalta and my pursuit of an even deeper self awareness.

Counseling could happen.

But right now..I am going to focus on healing from all the upheaval in my life, continue treating my depression and anxiety, and venting my feelings here. Healing is a process and this is my way of going about that process. Everyone has their own method, their own path, this is mine.

Yes, I am a bit of a dark gothy ghoul but that has NOTHING to do with my disorders.

I’m also the 45 year old woman with a pet net hanging from the ceiling filled with furry cats, bears, iguanas, and Furbies.

I am light. I am dark. I am me.

My illness isn’t my identity.

But it’s the monster under my bed that I have to live with popping out way too often so good thing I kind of dig the whole monster thing. 😉

2 Responses to “Illness Identity?”

  1. […] on last week’s “Illness Identity?” post and the research that lead to discovering that term and notion, I have been trying not […]

  2. Thanks a lot for the blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Great.

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