If someone tells you that you are bad at math, especially if you have had a bad experience in a math class, that idea can percolate in your mind for years and eventually you will dread anything to do with math. You might avoid it so much that it limits your career or education, that it holds you down beyond sensible reason. A lot of people are bad at math, this isn’t uncommon. But to allow the idea that you are bad at math to define your identity to the point where it causes this amount of havoc is obviously senseless.
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Recently I had coffee with my cousin and we were discussing the times I have been unwell. This lead to me talking about how I write for print and online sources about bipolar, my passion for mental health promotion and how I volunteer for a mental health organisation. After this she warned me against becoming too caught up in the mental health world and that I should focus on other interests too. At the time I thought how can I not be consumed by this world when it has been my life for the past few years and will continue to be?
A question central to my recent discussions with my therapist is: “Is my identity too centered on my mental illness?”
I'd like to discuss, briefly, to what extent neurodiverse conditions affect conceptions of identity. For those of you familiar with the “Neurodiversity” movement, you'll be aware of the debate that self-advocacy has stirred in the world of mental well-being. The movement takes its origin from the development of an online community through which some autists began advocating on behalf of themselves for recognition of their conditions as natural variations or ways of being, rather than deficits or impairments.
Over tea, Dan recalled the young woman I had been at nineteen, long before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at thirty-seven. He mentioned that, sure, I seemed moody at times, but he noted that my moods didn’t swing to either extreme. While Dan isn’t a psychiatrist, I took his opinions as seriously as if they were the opinions belonging to a physician.
First of all, before I take off with my diatribe, if you happen to have bipolar and you use the wording I'm about to discuss, please do not take offense. That is the very last thing I want to do in this blog. I merely wish to play devil's advocate. I am writing this as a catharsis, which is defined as the "discharge of pent-up emotions so as to result in the alleviation of symptoms or the permanent relief of the condition."