My Mental Illness Is a Huge Part of My Identity

October 3, 2018 Megan Rahm

My experience with mental illness is a big part of my identity. It doesn't define who I am, but I don't know who I'd be without it. Learn more at HealthyPlace.

My mental illness is part of my identity because of its huge impact on my life. When I was first diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, I thought everything in my life could go back to the way it was before my symptoms got out of hand. I didn't know my life would take a sharp turn in a different direction.

Early in recovery, I learned that I love art and want to help others. That discovery led me to where I am today. I have worked in the mental health field for the past 12 years. In July, I started what feels like my dream job -- a position working in both mental health and the arts.

My career has always been a big focus in my life -- before and after my diagnosis. My work has mainly focused on art and peer support, two byproducts of my recovery from schizoaffective disorder. This makes my mental illness an important part of my identity ("You Are More Than Your Mental Illness ").

Person-First Language

I have learned to use person-first language while volunteering and working in the mental health field. This means you say "person with schizophrenia" instead of "schizophrenic." You are not your illness. You are an individual with unique qualities, and that's more important than your diagnosis. This can be influential in how people feel about their own identity. While my mental illness is an important aspect of my identity, it does not define me.

Why Mental Illness Is Part of My Identity

The Life-Altering Rock Bottom

Just before my diagnosis, I had been a stressed-out music major barely hanging on. My instructor called me "the robot." I could hit notes very precisely over and over again, but there was no feeling behind it. I dropped out and moved away. I had prepared for music school my entire childhood. I was devastated and had no direction without it.

My mood and psychotic symptoms worsened when I moved away. I had no stable job, I wasn't enrolled in school, and I struggled financially.

When I started my recovery, my interests changed. Everything changed.

Rebuilding My Life in Recovery

My recovery started with my surrender -- asking for help and being willing to try new things. I learned I really love art while staying at a mental health facility. The other patients kept journals and I documented my experiences in a sketchbook.

Eventually, art filled the void that music left, but this time it was different. While my art isn't technically perfect, there's definitely a lot of feeling behind it. Early in recovery, my work revealed how I felt about my symptoms as well as trying medication for the first time. For several years, almost all of my drawings and paintings have been about my recovery.

Others' Reactions to My Mental Illness

I am not disabled by my mental illness, but that doesn't stop the occasional few from thinking that I am. I'm pretty open about my diagnosis, and how my recovery is very important to me. This has been good and bad. I have personally experienced stigma from within and outside of the mental health community. Sharing my story has sometimes helped break the stigma. I have almost always chosen to disclose my illness if the right opportunity arises because it is such a huge part of my work and life.

My mental illness will probably always feel like a part of my identity, but I also know that people grow and our interests evolve. Recovery brought me to where I am today, and I'm excited to see where I'll go next.

APA Reference
Rahm, M. (2018, October 3). My Mental Illness Is a Huge Part of My Identity, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 20 from

Author: Megan Rahm

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