Why do you say I shouldn’t identify with mental illness?

For a very important, entirely serious reason: YOU ARE NOT YOUR FARTS.

I suggest people not get too wrapped up in identifying with mental illness because it’s no different that building your identity around farting.

Farting is the result of things your organs do, influenced by genetic and environmental factors and the decisions you make each day, just like mental illness. Understanding the genetic and environmental context and the impacts of your decisions, empowers you to make choices that limit the amount of farting in your life. Or empower you to increase the amount of farting in your life. If you know something makes you fart, and you do that thing all of the time, you’re going to be farting all of the time. This happens with our brains, too.

But farting is transient. There’s a deeper identity you have beyond that. There’s a YOU that exists when you’re not farting and it’s the same YOU that exists when you are farting. You can build your identity around farting if you want to, but people are going to expect it from you. You’ll have to make that transient thing permanent. But maybe there’s going to come a day when you really don’t want to feel bloated and smell farts any more. Maybe you decide you’re sick of that thing that makes you fart and you don’t want to do it any more. But now everybody expects it of you. That’s who you are! That’s what you told them. You’re a farter! Keep farting! Tell us more stories about your terrible farts!

Then you’re stuck with it, even though you’d rather move on. The same thing can happen when building yourself around mental illness labels.

Here are some other reasons:

– I’ve been talking in public about mental health and recovery since 2011. That’s not a super long time, but it’s given me the opportunity to meet many people who have recovered from mental illnesses and many who have continued to struggle. Every person I know that’s recovered has made the switch to building a healthy life instead of fighting an illness. I can’t guarantee that’s going to be an anecdote that will be true forever, but so far, focusing on health instead of illness seems to really help prevent relapse.

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