In my last two blog posts I’ve been touching on my mental health and how it's reached a peak. How, my whole identity was being called into question whilst trying to get an official mental health diagnosis. I wanted to write a proper blog post about it and tell you my thoughts about finding your identity. What does it mean to be you? Do we really need to define ourselves in order to live? Do we need labels or are they useful? I will attempt to answer these through my own experience.
I had a bit of a crisis in my mental health. It’s such a long story but I suffered PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from May 2016 after a traumatic start to life with our now 5 year old. I was put on anti depressants, Sertraline, because I went to the doctors feeling suicidal. Read more about that here. They helped for a while whilst I was in recovery. I had a year off work to get better. But in the last 6 months I felt the anti-depressants were making me worse.
To read more of my mental health story and others, why not buy Rebecca Burkill’s Kind Humans magazine, Issue 2, for just £3 from her Etsy store?
It’s been a tricky one to explain to the Doctors why this is so. My Dad is a retired GP and so I’ve grown up around a lot of medical/pharmaceutical knowledge. I’m one of those people that can Google things successfully. Research is one of my skills. I hate it when people say ‘don’t Google it’ because, as big headed as it sounds, I know I have the discernment to sift through the information.
When you are trying to get a diagnosis, all this sort of stuff goes against you! I knew the reason the anti-depressants were becoming a hindrance was because they were flaring up what I thought to be bi-polar symptoms. But if that’s what I have, it’s always been very mild. To the point I could cope without medication. Hence why it’s so hard to explain my symptoms because they don’t manifest in the extreme way bipolar type one or two does!
At the same time of trying to get a diagnosis, I had some talking therapy. And some painful stuff came up. It was all about validation. This need to constantly require people to say, 'yes, you're right'. That I am somehow less than if people don't agree with me. It all stemmed back to childhood, as most things do. Particularly for me, through adolescence. The moment when we are learning our way and things get stuck in a certain pattern. So that you go through 30 plus years of your life believing that that is the correct and only way to do things. How hard it is to actually change an ingrained mindset that is not helpful!
My need for validation was due to being bullied at school. As per my mental health story in Rebecca Burkill's Kind Humans magazine, ever since I had what was thought to be a psychotic episode, I was forever labelled as the weirdo. I missed so much school I gave up paying attention. So it was always, 'oh, don't ask Julia. She doesn't know the answer'. Then I received amazement if I actually did work hard! It became too easy to let the slacker be my personality. Always the rebel, never bowing to authority.
All of this goes a long way towards who I am today. Still a rebel but trying to trust authority and take feedback objectively. All this validation malarkey is so hard to unhook from. I guess I must want to prove myself from my secondary school days. Prove that I do pay attention, I can research the s*** out of things and I do know my stuff! It's just so ridiculous how hard it is to break!
So when this psychiatrist started to question what I thought was right, (I hadn't had the talking therapy session at this point) I just couldn't handle it! I felt like he was saying I was rubbish because I didn't know what I was talking about. I see now he was only trying to help. To do his job. I just couldn't see it that way to start with.
When it comes to my identity, I feel like I hide behind these labels of mental health. And looking back to that time at secondary school, I think I know why. These days, I pride myself on being a weirdo, being unique, standing out from the crowd. I think I've had to create this weirdo persona because I needed to put a positive spin on being slightly crazy and being bullied for it! I am also a deep person. The usual chat about make-up and boys whilst growing up just didn't faze me. I only found my set of friends in about year 10! (Fourth year of Secondary school). Friends that I still see now, regularly, and can have those deep conversations that I crave, that I long for, that really bolster me up and refresh me.
What's my point? It's centred around the question, do we really need a label? A well meaning friend said to me, through all this, 'but why do you need a label? Why can't you just be you?'. I think for me, I feel like I need a mental health diagnosis as an excuse for why I'm weird. A way to justify why I am perhaps quite a lot different from most. Sometimes it's lonely standing out from the crowd. I've realised this as I've got older. The rebel in me has quietened and I've realised it's actually quite nice to follow a trend and feel a part of something.
There is no doubt that the medication I was on stopped being beneficial and became detrimental. In the moment, a diagnosis was not just about having a label to justify my weird behaviour, but also as a way to explain it. I know I must have a chemical imbalance. It officially runs in the family, bi-polar, adhd, autistic spectrum. I just wanted to have a clear answer in order to get the medication right, in order to function and cope with life! I don't see anything wrong with that part.
But the rest of it, I need to work on not letting a diagnosis define me. I think it's all about being comfortable in your own skin. For me, I look to my faith in God but you can find security in other ways. Giving yourself permission to love yourself, warts and all. Allowing yourself to make mistakes and still loving yourself anyway. For me, it's all about knowing the love of God. That when I pass through the deep waters, I need not be afraid, because He is with me. That my weakness is made perfect in His strength. That He will shelter me in the shadow of His wings and I will find refuge there. I find such peace in these scriptures. And they help ground me.
For some reason, when I had this wobbly over my identity, I seemed to forget all that. I allowed myself to be attacked mentally and spiritually. It seemed to become this big negative thing. Rather than just forgiving myself, letting things go and saying 'sod it! I am who I am!'. And that I don't need someone to agree with me/give me validation to prove my self worth.
And I think that is the crux of it. To be free to be me. The end.
I'm Julia, Just Creative Julia, jolly pleased to meet you!
Welcome to my creative lifestyle blog, established 2014. My main sections are: creativity including crafting, poetry and interior design; well being including mental health, recipes and my faith in God; personal including parenting and my general introvert deep thoughts. You can also have a browse in my shop and Etsy shop.