THE BLOG

Do Our Illnesses Define Us?

03/16/2015 02:38 pm ET | Updated May 16, 2015
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I am not my illness. I see this phrase all over social media with selfies taken of those who make this statement. While I love seeing these and respect the statement that is made, I think of what it means for me.

I am not my illness. My name is Risa, not depression. In describing myself I would never use depression in my description. I would say loving, smart, sarcastic, funny, etc. While depression has been a part of me for the past year and a half, it isn't all there is to me and it certainly does not define me, even at my inner core.

While I do not feel that others see only my illness instead of me, I am stuck in a strange predicament. The question I ask myself is this: Do I truly understand and accept, for myself, that I am not my illness?

During the past year and a half my life has been about therapy sessions, hospitalizations, electroconvulsive therapy, mindfulness based stress reduction groups and finding my way in my relationships as I change and grow. This has become my new normal. At the same time, I go to work and accomplish my daily tasks, bring my daughter to school and pick her up, am present with my husband and daughter more than I ever have been and seek out my friends to hang out.

This part of my life is the outcome of all of my treatment. But, this gets me thinking. Even if I don't believe that I am not my illness, the truth is my illness is a part of me and who I am. It's not that I am not my illness, it's that my illness is not all there is to me being me.

I cannot discount the fact that depression is a part of me and who I am, at least right now. Just as I am smart, funny and sarcastic, I am also in recovery from a major depressive episode and some of the symptoms of depression are still being worked on, so I can add to that list and say I am also anxious, sometimes sad and tired.

Therefore, for now, depression is still a part of who I am. I am not ashamed of this and while I do not welcome it, I cannot pretend that it is not there. It is there, in my daily world. While I am currently dealing with the actual trauma of what I have gone through during the past year and a half, I have "flashes" of memories of what I went through, thoughts and feelings. My illness is still present, only in a different way. I can communicate about these memories and digest the pain that they cause. I am not my illness.

Maybe the phrase should be adjusted for meaning. Instead of, I am not my illness, perhaps it should be, there is more to me than my illness. Wouldn't that make sense for any type of illness, either physical or mental? I would think that someone with diabetes would use this adjusted statement or someone with cancer. No one can erase an illness that is actively within oneself, try as we may. There is a way to accept it while at the same time embracing and making room for the other traits that make us who we are.

I am going to go with this adjusted phrase, as it feels right for me...

THERE IS MORE TO ME THAN MY ILLNESS.

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