Yesterday I wrote about values and how that’s important to identity. It’s the obvious thing people think about when they discuss the idea of identity. I’ve been thinking lately of another aspect of identity that is often overlooked because it doesn’t apply to everyone, but one that can be very, very important to the people that it does apply to.
Disability. Mental illness.
Those aren’t things that people often think about when they think about identity, but they’re important. Here’s why.
When I was younger, I struggled with many things (you can read about one of them here, but I also had other difficulties with social skills, motor coordination etc.). I’ve been called all kinds of things. ‘Lazy’, ‘stupid’, ‘stubborn’… But in the sixth grade (after a learning specialist at my school suggested it for the second time), my parents took me to an educational psychologist who gave me a provisional diagnosis of ADHD. Although I do not actually believe I have ADHD, the label was and is so important to me, because for the first time, I allowed myself to consider the possibility that I might actually not be broken or weird. That I might just be a different kind of normal. That there might be others out there who struggle the same way I do (which there are… I’ve found a few, although at the time I felt really alone).
It’s so easy to say “don’t let [diagnosis] define you/your child”. It’s so easy to think that nobody wants to have labels like ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia… That’s not really true, or at least it isn’t true for me. I’d rather have a word to describe my struggles, because it lends validation to the very real challenges I face in my life. Because ‘anxiety’ is always a better label than ‘overreacting’ and if I had ADHD, that would be a better label than ‘lazy’ or ‘stubborn’. [I read an excellent post about how labels are great as long as they’re the right label, but I can’t remember for the life of me which post it was or even where I saw it. This post was heavily influenced by that one and I’d love to credit the author. I will edit to include a link if I can remember.]
Having depression as an identity to validate the fact that certain things are harder for me than they are for people who don’t struggle with depression is really different from using my depression identity as an excuse to not make an effort to minimise the impact depression has on my life. I try not to do too much of the excuse-making. In fact, if someday I’m lucky enough to recover from depression, I’m (hopefully) not going to give up on recovery because I’m afraid of losing the identity. But for now, I do have depression, and having that identity is better than being called lazy on those days when I simply cannot do something because getting up out of bed in the morning is the hardest and bravest thing I can manage for that day.