From the moment that you walk into a therapist’s office, the therapist will be looking the client up and down, interpreting what is said. They will attempt to name the issue with a diagnosis from the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is often a way to condense information and symptoms, the goal to find the best treatment path. But along the way, an issue frequently arises. Those who are struggling with mental health issues often are seeking a sense of self, of fulfillment, in the hopes that they will be more happy, like themselves more, etc. The self is often composed of that label, becoming no longer a person but instead a list of symptoms.

There is a limit placed on the individual when this occurs, preventing the development of an identity beyond that of a diagnosis. One’s identity is not disease or their illness. Even with a long list of symptoms, they are still a unique individual. No one, including myself, chooses to have a mental illness, yet it is so difficult to separate from personal identity.

In a support group, I might say, “I’m Kara, and I have anxiety.” Some icebreaker that is. I’m not a fan of icebreakers in general, but a first impression should not be on the basis of my illness. One’s self-worth extends far beyond the scope of a diagnosis. No mental illness can take that away. It is the responsibility of all to uncover the natures of our true identities, the people who we are proud to be. I am a singer, a writer and a coxswain for crew. I am a genuine person, and I try my best to care and listen to others, because I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of that lifeline.

A diagnosis is a way to find the appropriate treatment and help, not to define one’s identity. It is crucial to understand that sickness should never be the defining factor for an individual. There is much more to a person. There is a great deal of self-searching done in recovery. Figuring out what you like, as opposed to your illness, is a challenge. A great deal of one’s identity can be tied to illness. Recovery is searching for, and then accepting yourself. It is key to connect the feeling of self-acceptance as something that each person, no matter how sick, deserves.