As a person with mental illnesses my identity has always been hard to pin down. When I was younger, one of my coping mechanisms was to be a chameleon. I've tried on lots of different "genres": skater girl, Christian ska/punk/rock girl, hardcore girl, sad emo girl...and they've all come with some entertaining fashion statements, for the record. It used to feel better to immerse myself in a genre and let it be an identity for me, so that I didn't really have to take a deep look at who I was. Because, I didn't know who I was. Is a genre my "self"?
Today, my mood shifts with the ebb and flow of depression and anxiety, which splits me in half. Some days I'm full of good, positive, happy, and productive thoughts. Some days I'm fully of dark, murky, anxious, and untruthful thoughts. How can I be both this depressive/anxious person, and a productive/recovering person? Are my moods my "self"?
My thoughts are composed of an almost constant chatter of many voices—negative and positive and straight-up confusing—filling up my brain. Like a radio dial on the fritz it jumps around from voice to voice. "If you're just tuning in, Beebe is currently experiencing a mild case of depression..." "One day I'll fly away, leave all this to yesterday..." "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away..." "Yesterday, I forgot to do my taxes like I said I was going to" "I'm a terrible person for not getting my taxes done yet" 'We interrupt this broadcast for a breaking development: Beebe is now feeling depressed and anxious". Is this chatter my "self"?
I have seen doctors who have given me labels to describe my thoughts and my feelings: generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, depression, etc. Sometimes these labels make me feel crazy and I realize how the stigma against mental illness is still embedded even in me. Sometimes these labels are helpful and freeing by simply providing a name to what I'm experiencing. A name means that I'm in a category and, a category has to have at least one other person in there, right? So, by default, it makes me feel less alone. But, are these labels my "self"?
I am not just a series of labels. I have interests. There are things that I do to fill my day that I enjoy: knitting, cooking, graphic design, playing board games, reading, going on hikes, playing with my dog. Is my "self" just a series of interests?
There is a mixture of all these things that forms my identity, my self. I'm a summation of moods, thoughts, feelings, emotions, chatter, labels, interests, and genres. At 31, I still don't know who exactly I am, but I'm trying to figure it out. And, that's okay. Today, I'm able to choose who I'm going to be. Tomorrow, I might not have that luxury...my brain could choose for me. But, right now, I have a choice to be whatever I want. And, that's something I'll hold onto when I'm stuck in the bad days.