A Chronic Optimist on: Mental Health Identities

I suffer from severe anxiety. Tight chest, hair tugging, sleepless night, and nail biting until you bleed severe anxiety. Why am I telling you this? Humans love categorizing things, and these labels are obviously necessary for many items, products, and other aspects of our daily lives. However, sometimes these labels are applied to human beings, and this can have conflicting results. These labels may be empowering or degrading, and they may make up part of our identity, thereby shaping how we face the world each day. This article is not a rant about what is appropriate to say to another person or not; we are all grown adults who should not have to Google the Golden Rule. This is me hoping you to consider how you label yourself, specifically when it comes to dealing with your mental health.

I have labeled myself as someone with anxiety. Is this a bad thing? I think everyone should be open about mental health regardless of whether or not they have a diagnosed condition. It is an awesome power to be open about your mental health if you can. Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their condition. I once did a rant about how labels may prevent us from learning who we are, finding happiness with who we are, and loving our perceived identities, and how these identities may prevent us from adapting and embracing change. The same applies for when we label ourselves, whether it be a sense of pride as an Acadia student, or something you may be burdened with, such as depression. In my case, I found my diagnosis of anxiety empowering. In fact, I burst into tears when the physician told me what her explanation was for my sleepless nights, chronic fatigue, crippling fear of seemingly ordinary tasks, and heart palpitations so vigorous I thought it would burst at any moment. These were not sad tears, for a weight had been lifted from my shoulders – I finally knew. In reality, I always knew, but now someone had given me the power to take action and fight. This is coming from someone who was a resident assistant and counseled his peers on the support around campus, and who guided them to resources and support to help them manage and find wellness.

Unfortunately, I did not take my advice until I was burnt out, and had spiraled back into depressive episodes that I had not dealt with in a year. My diagnosis empowered me to take action, finally understand what I had full-heartedly preached to my peers, and accept help. Knowing I have anxiety has allowed me to be more open with my friends and family, my professors, and most importantly myself. I understand that being labeled with a condition can have the opposite effect as I have friends with a plethora of mental health conditions. Some of my friends can be open about their conditions, while others struggle even to tell their closest connections.

All I ask is that you do seek help, do speak openly about mental health, and if you are able to do so … talk openly about your personal condition. It may help you gain a better understanding of yourself and allow you to make positive changes for the better whether it be finding local supports in similar individuals, finding support through treatments such as meditation, exercise, or medication, and most importantly help you move forward. Just promise me you will not let your illness define who you are. Mental health is a part of you, but it is not who you are. As I have said before, life is what you make it. I challenge you to accept your mental health condition and speak out about it. You may just find yourself feeling better, and possibly even helping those around you. By understanding yourself and your situation, you will empower yourself to recognize that your condition is just one tiny part of the quilt that makes up your identity, and allow you to focus on the aspects of that quilt that you deem worth celebrating. I think you are worth celebrating. I hope you agree.