illness as an identity

I was diagnosed during my early adolescence, at 14. The adolescent period is not easy to get through, what with changes in society’s expectations coupled together with biological changes. It is also during this period of time that a sense of self is developed; an identity. According to Erikson, the main developmental task of adolescence is identity development. Failure to do so would result in role confusion.

As it is, developing your identity and finding out “who you are” is a difficult task. What more, then, if you have diagnoses to deal with? There is a a very strong stigma attached to mental illnesses, and having a diagnosis slapped across your forehead like a label only makes identity development more challenging. What did I do? I ended up building my identity around that label.

I was not, and am not ashamed of having a mental illness 1.  However, I went overboard and I let myself become my illness.

When asked to describe myself, the first things that came to mind were my diagnoses.

I realised, about two years ago, that I didn’t know who I was before my illness. Who was I, if  I wasn’t the girl with scars on her arms and suicide on her record? Quite frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t believe that I would ever be without illness anyway. In the second half of 2015, however, as a more complete recovery (but not a cure) began to seem more imminent, I realised that it was time to redefine my identity. Studying developmental psychology, I realised how far I was lacking behind in terms of personal growth, thanks to my identity status2. As I was told by James, I do not need to start rebuilding my identity scratch, I just need to rearrange the emphasis on the various aspects of my identity.

While my illness is still a part of my identity, it no longer constitutes such a huge part. My self-concept is different and, hopefully, my self-esteem will follow suit.


1 I don’t hide it because I’d rather people know now and decide whether they want to be a part of my life, than if people find out and decide to leave after I have grown attached to them.

2 First, when I was certain I wouldn’t live past 18 years of age, I was content being in the identity diffusion state. After, when I was certain I would never get better at all, I was in the foreclosure stage. That was it. Easy.

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Marcia’s Identity Statuses
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