Flatlay with Tonik bottles, glass of water, pills, and magazine

Mental Illness and Identity

To put it bluntly; I’ve been mentally ill for a long time.

I started therapy when I was roughly five years old, with my first diagnoses being anxiety and OCD. From there I snagged a couple more labels; social anxiety and depression. And later on, Borderline Personality Disorder was added to the list.

So lately I’ve been thinking about how this longstanding mental health mess of mine has effected my identity. And I think that there are a lot of answers to that question.

All that I know

Having and dealing with mental illness is all that I know. There was no before and after. Nothing to look back on and compare.

So how much of who I am is real, predisposed, and untouched by outside influence? And how much of me was altered by mental illness?

I’m sure it’s a bit of both.

I think all of us have a good mix of genetic, social, and environmental influence. But I think I would have been completely different if I somehow never ended up with mental illness.

Having a personality disorder alone makes this even more nuanced. It’s even in the name; ‘personality’.

My BPD is sewn throughout the fabric of my being. Making this an interlocking messy pair of identity and illness that I can’t seem to untwine.


Who the heck even am I?

Even one of the symptoms of BPD is a lack of identity.

I get wrapped up in why I am the way that I am. Is it because of my BPD? Or am I intrinsically wired this way?

I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. Huddled over quizzes in teen magazines, taking Buzzfeed-esq tests, researching my Myers-Briggs type and Enneagram number.

Carefully dissecting every bit of myself trying to piece together some sort of identity.

I often get caught up in these labels. Googling everything about these illnesses, going over facts and information with a fine tooth comb. It’s hard to see a separation between these labels and myself.

I am not one without my mental illness and my mental illness is not one without me.

In the gray

Something that I always have to remind myself is that things aren’t always black and white.

Yes, mental illness is a big part of my life and has been for a very long time, but that doesn’t mean that’s all that I am.

Striking a balance between knowing and honoring my mental health history, but being able to take a step back if I find it consuming me, will benefit me well.

I am multi-dimensional and a mixture of mine and my ancestors history. It doesn’t matter about the what ifs and what could have beens. I am who I am regardless of labels.

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  1. This post resonated with me so much! Like you, I’ve been on medications and in therapy since I was 5 years old. I was diagnosed with OCD, then later, depression and anxiety. That’s a lot for a little kid to take in, as you know. Like you, it’s all that I know, too. I barely remember my life before it and now I can’t imagine never having it (though I do daydream about what it would be like if I were “normal”). And you’re right, it’s hard NOT to identify with mental illness. It feels like that’s all you are, your identity, EVERYTHING. I don’t know much about BPD, but I’m so sorry it caused you to feel this way. You’re so strong and brave for writing about this! (I know when I blog about mental health it feels like I’m emotionally drained afterwards)

    I related to this so much and I hate that we both had/have to deal with this, but in a way, I’m kind of glad I’m not the only one. Sometimes you feel so alone in your mental illness and forget that other people are going through something so similar too. Thank you so much for sharing! I really can’t tell you how much I appreciate you writing about your experiences. And you’re right. We’re not our mental illnesses. We have our own personalities and thinking that I think form without our mental illness influencing us. That’s something it can’t take away from us.

    We’re more than our mental illnesses. We’re stronger and better and won’t let it conquer us!

    Emily | https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com

    1. Emily, I’m so glad this resonated with you! I remember finding your blog through one of your mental health posts and being so taken aback by all the similarities we share!
      It’s so nice to know there are people out there with similar experiences, especially since ours is pretty rare. And like you, I also imagine what it would be like if I were “normal” too haha.
      Thank you so much for this comment, I’m so glad you related to this. Much love!

  2. I can relate. I have had an anxiety disorder my whole life and there are times when I question who I would be without it. Fear has a way of holding us back, keeping us from pursing things that we find interesting. Perhaps I would be more sociable and have a tighter network of friends? Maybe I would have traveled more? I am finding that as I have learned to cope that with or without this label I am still me and my passions are a part of my soul. The challenge of having a disorder forces me to learn and adapt, in some ways makes me stronger. You are amazingly you, just how you are!

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