I am always telling people “You are more than your mental illness” because I want them to feel empowered. I also truly believe this. As a mental health advocate, I want people with mental illness to feel as though they are complex humans with a lot more going on than the label of “bipolar disorder”, “schizophrenia”, “anorexia” or whatever other illness applies. I am constantly trying to remind everyone that those with mental illness are people: they are parents, siblings, friends, co-workers and more. Their mental illnesses are just a small part of a messy, beautiful puzzle. Of course, mental illness is a serious struggle that will definitely permeate every aspect of your life. As much as we try, we can’t extricate ourselves from our mental illness. It’s definitely not a piece of clothing that we wear “on occasion” and take off whenever we want. It will always be there in some format. But what I have always wanted people to know is that your mental illness doesn’t have to be your only identity. If you are able to find the right treatment tools, you can focus on other projects or issues besides taking care of your mental illness. You can promote other parts of yourself, like your creative talents, your business smarts or your activism. You can be seen as a role model or a leader for a reason that isn’t related to your mental illness. Or you can live a simple, yet fulfilling life where you take pleasure in your relationships and community.
That’s why I was disappointed the other day when I was thinking about my own life and realized that my own mental illness (bipolar disorder) has literally taken over my life. Since I am currently unemployed due to my mental health issues, my day-to-day has consisted mainly of taking care of my health: individual therapy, psychiatrist appointments, group therapy and talking to my friends, family, and partner about how I am feeling. When I am not busy with those activities, I am working on this blog, Slay Girl Society. Three times a week, I mainly write about my experiences with bipolar disorder. Sure, many of my posts are often interviews with other people about their own experiences. However, I always throw in my own personal insights and stories to make it relevant to my readers. I spend a lot of time writing these articles and thinking about the next topic. I also post a lot on social media about my day-to-day thoughts and emotions on my mental illness, as well speak in public as a mental health advocate.
I want more for my life. Yes, I’m extremely proud of the person that I have become due to my struggles with bipolar disorder. I am unapologetic about my mental illness and I would never want to hide it, nor would I want people to separate me from it. Mental illness colours my personality in ways that frustrate me, for sure, but it also has helped paint a picture of a person who is strong, resilient, creative and empathetic. I don’t want to push my bipolar disorder away and distance it from myself. My aim has never been to be “normal” or live a life of recovery that ignores my significant lived experience with bipolar disorder. I don’t necessarily want to be like everyone else. My world wouldn’t be the same without mental illness and sometimes that’s a good thing.
But what I do want is to care about other people and other issues. I want to ensure that I have enough energy to help my community and make a difference. I already know that I am changing the lives of people with mental illness. I’m not trying to be cocky. I am just proud of the fact that I have been able to speak to tens of thousands of people across the world. However, there are so many other interesting and important topics to focus on. Climate change, the treatment of Indigenous people and barriers in the workplace/education for people in racialized communities are just the tip of the iceberg. I want to use my voice, my energy and my body to make significant improvements in society. Of course, I can’t be an activist for all causes. I don’t have the bandwidth for that. But I can make a more concerted effort to do more for causes other than mental health than just sharing an occasional article on Facebook. Sometimes I don’t even do that because I am so exhausted from spending time on social media for my mental health advocacy. Clearly, I need a better balance between mental health advocacy and other causes.
Mental health is my number one passion but I have room for others. I want to have other things that I am passionate about. And I am starting to believe that finding new passions will actually improve my mental health and play a key role in my recovery process. I will feel like a more whole person if I diversify what I read, meet new people and explore places I’ve never been. I will feel more connected to the people around me who share different identities, which might be a solution to my sense of isolation that takes over when my mental health is deteriorating. I will expand my mind and embrace perspectives that I haven’t previously considered.
Sometimes, I even think it would be nice if someone didn’t know about my mental illness. If they could ask what I’ve been up to and I might have something different to offer to the conversation. I just want to have more than one purpose in life and more than one aspiration. I think I already do have some ways to contribute to a conversation beyond talking about mental health. Some of my obsessions, albeit not all very serious, are food, iced tea, celebrities, puppies, and books. I absolutely love to be outside and experience nature. I particularly enjoy theatre and music. So I am more well-rounded than I appear to be sometimes on my Twitter feed.
I will never stop writing and talking about mental illness. I am a mental health advocate and activist for life. I will also fight to overcome my health obstacles so I can join different conversations and be more than just “a girl with bipolar disorder”.