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Leaving my labels of mental illness and finding authentic me

Bipolar, anorexic, trauma victim, suicidal patient, self-harmer. For so many years these were the labels I covered myself in through the 10 years’ worth of treatment I have received. It seemed that each new treatment I went into I gained another label. I knew the struggles I was facing, and I knew that something was not quite right however, it also seemed that in order to get recognition of that and to actually be acknowledged by someone who could help me, I needed a label. The label of mental illnesses I had placed on me became a key to gain support however, over time I realised that they were locks to remain in the system of traditional mental health services.

It became automatic to walk into a room and introduce myself as Lizzie the anorexic, Lizzie the girl with a long life of trauma, Lizzie who could not escape mental ill-health. For a long time I lost the Lizzie behind them labels. The Lizzie who was clever, outgoing, creative, and smart. The Lizzie who wanted to support others with her experiences, go to university, and go through life achieving her dreams despite the barriers in her way. Every conversation I sat with involved some form of mental health topic being brought up in a negative light and I started to think of myself as the illnesses I had. Personally, I started to feel a comfort from this because even if it was a negative perception I had of myself, I had a personality, an identity to cling onto while feeling so lost.

Looking back, I wish I had truly appreciated the values I had outside of my illnesses and I wish that I had someone to remind me that yes, I was unwell. However, wellness was possible if I looked at the strengths of my personality and identity. Two years ago this month I was sat being assessed by yet another consultant for yet another treatment and they asked me the question “what is keeping you alive, what are your protective factors to stay alive?”. No one had really asked me that before, I had never truly sat and seen the worth of becoming healthy and staying alive. I started to look at the passions I once had and the skills I had developed over the years. At the time I had started working part time for a local community interest company supporting community members through physical changes in their landscape. I had just finished my undergraduate degree in geography and was about to embark on a research masters degree. I was surrounded by creative people who had inspired me and when I seen this as an opportunity, I hung onto it. I hung so tight onto the things I once loved. Creating, painting, walking, running, being in nature. I clung onto my values of helping and supporting people and I looked around for opportunities for me to embrace that.

Two years later I can say this…

“Hi, I am Lizzie. I am a person who is currently exploring her passions, assets, and identity. I am a friend, a sister, a daughter, a colleague, and a student. I have overcome many battles in the little time I have been on this earth, but I am using these experiences to my advantage. I now work with a mental health social enterprise ‘First Person Project’ to use my story, my skills, and my values to meet others who have experienced similar battles. I encourage the people I meet to look past the labels they may have and to instead, recognise their strengths as people. I still struggle with my mental health sometimes, however, when I do struggle, I challenge the challenge by looking at my strengths and focusing on what I believe is a strength of mine rather than a weakness”.

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