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You Are Not Your Mental Illness

Your diagnosis, in no way, should define who you are.

Jamie Hack/
Source: Jamie Hack/

In the last ten years of having a major mental illness it’s occurred to me over and over again that my schizophrenia doesn’t define me.

When I was first diagnosed, the word crazy hung over my head like some thick black fog. It gave me the impression that things would never be the same again, that people would never look at me the same and that I was doomed to a life of living under the label of mentally ill.

For the first few years I kept to myself, wary of talking to anyone, wary of people because of the intense paranoia I felt anytime I spoke to anyone. I thought that they would be judging me and out to make fun of me and it’s a fear that still, to this day, hasn’t gone away completely. I still get nervous when I hear laughter and when I see someone who looks like they might be trouble.

I’m on my toes a lot, ready to leave situations if I need to, or to take deep breaths and try to find my balance in the midst of something I can’t get out of.

This wariness of people has made me pretty independent and solitary but I think I like it that way.

The point is, these things that happen in my brain are simply chemical, they’re biological and they’re not me.

It confused me for a long time thinking that the things my brain was telling me were real and based in fact but with time I’ve been able to separate myself from the things my brain says.

Think of it like having two people inside you, the uncontrollable paranoid one and the one up above that’s driving everything. Learning the difference between the two, and learning that I, as I know myself, am not my illness, has been extremely beneficial in my recovery. It’s helped me realize that the things that my brain tells me, for the most part aren’t based in fact and that I’m above any of these notions that seem to come out of nowhere.

Separating yourself from your illness is hard but once you see things for what they are, you can be free to be yourself without the cloud of paranoia and delusion hanging over your head.

Further, because of this, you can see that your illness doesn’t define you, it doesn’t condemn you to a life trapped by the things your brain tells you and it frees you up to have a normal happy existence.

Crazy is a hard word to embody and accepting the fact that yes, you have a chemical imbalance in your brain, is much easier than fighting it with every fiber of your being which people with schizophrenia tend to do.

In essence your brain is just a part of your body, think of it like your arm, if you have a cut on your arm you put a bandaid on it and take care of it. You wouldn’t tell yourself that you are now a cut simply because of your arm, the same goes for your brain, schizophrenia or any mental illness is like a cut or a bruise in your brain. It’s something you take care of, it’s not you.

You are not schizophrenia.

Letting an illness define you as crazy or a nutjob is only perpetuating the stigma so many of us fight against on a daily basis. You don’t have to tell yourself that you’ll never be able to function in society simply because you have a mental illness. It’s just a cut that you live with.

Suffice it to say, that I’ve been there, I’ve perpetuated the stigma on myself and I’ve worked to overcome it. You can too. Just give it time, it will get easier.

About the Author
Mike Hedrick

Mike Hedrick is a writer based in Boulder, Colorado. He has lived with schizophrenia since he was 20.

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