Who Am I Without My Mental Illness?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? During moments when I’m frustrated with a wave of depression or a frantic zap of anxiety hits me, I wonder what my life would look like without mental illness.

I have lived with depression and anxiety for most of my life Especially as a child, I didn’t understand why I felt the ways that I did. I thought I was just weird, that nobody else felt such intense emotion like me.

If I could erase that part of myself, who would I be? Would I be a different person or relatively the same?

I have wondered where do I begin and my mental illness end? What parts are truly Megan and what are solely caused by anxiety and depression?

Maybe there is no beginning or end to it all. Maybe mental illness is just one part of what makes up each of us like our talents and passions.

What do you guys think? Do you think you would essentially be the same person without your mental illness(es)?


45 Replies to “Who Am I Without My Mental Illness?”

  1. My illness didn’t begin until my late 20s, so I do have a pretty distinct sense of well me and ill me. It’s the same person, but also quite different.

    1. That sounds like it would be difficult to adjust after living for so long without a mental illness. Thank you for commenting, Ashley!

  2. Honest and insightful piece. If only there was a way to switch depression and anxiety off. It’s more like an injury though; once it’s occurred then there is no going back, healing can happen, but the damage is a fact to live with.

  3. I wouldn’t be so hesitant to try and fail. I’d rock climb and take on new challenges.I think I would smile more. But I also think my struggle with despair gives me empathy for others.

  4. I have definitely pondered this many times. My struggles began in elementary school when I should have been doing kid things except I was dealing with issues bigger than myself. As I got older it was almost as if the stages of growing I did were in a weird sequence and so maturing came later in life. I know that without my struggle I would be very different, I certainly wouldn’t be as empathetic, understanding and open-minded; maybe instead I would be happier and more dauntless. It really is a double-edged sword.

    1. I can really relate to what you said here, having gone through a (seemingly) similar experience myself. Thank you for sharing.

    2. I appreciate your perspective! I like that you have listed the positives of how mental illness can give many of us some positive traits. Thank you for your words!

  5. Without my depression I think my life would be easier. There was a time when I was happier. Now I have many days where I just want to lie in bed and cry. I of course refuse to give into my depression and stay as positive as I can. I just think my life would be completely different than it is now.

  6. I too wonder about where I end and my mental illness begins. It’s a strange thing when your thoughts and emotions feel like they’re not entirely “yours”. I’m aware that I personally identify with my illness because I’ve struggled for as long as I can remember. for example, I rely on my associated negative coping mechanisms a lot. However, I do also think I owe my empathy, patience, and compassion largely to what I’ve been through.

    1. That’s good that you can see the positives and negatives to having a mental illness. Unless our illnesses go away, how will we ever know who we truly are without them? Thank you for commenting, Jill!

  7. People are who they are because of life experiences. Mental illness is just one part of the definition. It can potentially have great influence in your person’s but without your mental illness you wouldn’t be who you are. Embrace yet dispel these diagnosis and live how you see fit. Your true person is what you will find.

  8. I guess that we are what we are, one whole package along with our fears, flaws and perfections so we just have to try to improve as much as we can, be happy as much as we can… if there’s a cure for our mental illnesses that can make our life better, we must pursuit it especially if it’s affecting our relationships and peace of mind, but at the end we remain unique just the way we are…

    1. I love what you’ve written, Huguetta! You’re right, we are all complex beings that are shaped by our surroundings, experiences and all those other things. Thank you for commenting!

  9. I think that my mental illness is (partly) what makes me me. Sometimes I feel like life would be easier without it, but I’m sure people with diabetes/asthma etc all think the same. It’s part of who I am and my life wouldn’t be the same without it.

  10. That’s interesting, and yeah, I have thought about it a lot. I think there is a huge overlap between my mental illnesses and my natural personality traits, and also I can’t say exactly when my mental illnesses have started, but I suppose a lot of me would stay the same, but maybe some traits of what think is my personality wouldn’t be as intensely pronounced as they are.

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has thought about this! Mhmm, I feel the same about how I think my depression and anxiety enhances my personality traits. I’m a highly sensitive person so my mental illness makes it all worse. Thank you for your comment!!

  11. I think I would be a much different person without mental illness because I would be more consistent. Waking up bipolar everyday is almost always a surprise; I might be any one of many variations of myself. I probably wouldn’t know what to do without it though. :/

    1. I appreciate your perspective. That sounds really difficult to not know exactly who you’re going to be each morning. Thank you for your comment, Johnny!

  12. I’ve never really thought about it. Like you, I’ve been mentally ill as long as I can remember. It’s always just been a part of who I am. I guess I had a harder time accepting my anxiety than my depression, like the depression is part of me but the anxiety isn’t. Which is odd, because I can function normally while anxious, but not while I’m depressed. Also, the depression has me behave in ways that are contrary to my own personality, so it seems odd I would be more accepting of it. Maybe because I know how to control my depression most of the time, but my anxiety comes out of nowhere like, “Hey!”

    I definitely think I could function better in society, maybe not freak out every time I have to go to the store (the population in my city exploded in the last few years). I also think I would be a pretty crappy human being. People who don’t understand mental illness are the ones that create the most dogma and shame, from what I’ve experienced.

    1. Thank you for your words, Kamber! I have both as well and I agree, being depressed makes it much more difficult to function. I get kind of paralyzed by anxiety sometimes but it’s not as bad as my depression can be.

      I love your entire second paragraph! All of us here can empathize about the struggles of mental illness because we live it every single day.

      1. Thanks so much Megan for your words of support and encouragement. I love the community of WordPress, where people don’t put each other down or make each other feel guilty for being mentally ill. I’m so glad to be a part of that.

      2. I feel the same way! It is so incredible to feel supported by a group of strangers who understand what it is like to struggle with mental illness.

  13. they are so intertwined that i wonder if the bits and pieces are inextricable. is there a me that exists without mental illness, or is my mental illness just a part of me, like my pancreas. can i at least hibernate it, or will it be with me forever and a day?

    1. Hahaha I wish I could press pause on my illness too. That’s my exact thought, if we take away our mental illness who are we? Thanks for your comment, Em!

  14. I ask myself this constantly. Without my illness what/who am I?

    This is further cemented when I am well and write less. Before my most recent series of episodes I wrote about a lot of different topics. As i’ve started to recover from it I find myself with little to write about.

    1. I feel the same way about how challenging writing can be when you’re generally feeling good. At least for me, I’m used to feeling depressed or anxious so when it’s gone I don’t feel like myself. Thanks for the comment, Jack!

  15. I wasn’t diagnosed when I was thirty one. The late diagnosis meant I never thought about being bipolar until I had a strong image of who I was.

    Now, my image of who I was DID include all of faults of a bipolar person because my mood swings had started when I was sixteen. But the point was that I owned all the flaws, just as much as any thirty one year old would own their character.

    Asking me to imagine who I am without my mental illness is like asking a normal person to imagine who they are if they grew up in New York City instead of Casper, Wyoming. Or if they were a boy instead of a girl, or if they grew up with no parents. I’m pretty sure that so much of me would change that I’d be a different person, but it’s hard to say how.

    I CAN tell you what my flaws are, because so many of them are bipolar related. So there is that. But being bipolar is not all about flaws. A lot of it is learning to cope with difficult or unwinnable situations. I’d rather not have had to learn this type of coping, but I have gained insights that I would probably not have learned if I wasn’t bipolar.

    Ciekaikai_com above has it right – I think that being bipolar has made me more tolerant of other’s flaws since I have so many of them myself. And in fact, my friends figure I’d be pretty annoying and much less likeable if I WASN’T bipolar. Though I’m still pretty annoying.

    1. I totally agree with your third paragraph, Jinnah. Exactly, how would we know what we would be like if it was something like a different gender or we grew up in a different city/state/country. We would all be different somehow. Thank you for your comment!

  16. I don’t remember a time before it, and when I thought I did – how do I know it wasn’t weighing in?

    I don’t know who I am with mental illness, and I oft remind myself. I have a note in my phone with a few things I read when I get.. existential.

    I couldn’t imagine a life without it, but I try to live my life beside it.

    1. That’s good that you have a plan for when you get existential. I usually totally immerse myself in a YouTube video to help when that happens to me. Thanks for your comment!

  17. That’s an amazing question! Honestly, I think I’d be a completely different person. My anxiety has stopped me from accomplishing tasks and dreams, but it has also given me time to appreciate those things more. My depression has brought me to the brink of my life, but it has also given me perspective and insight. I don’t remember a time without my illness, but I think I’m starting to be ok with that.

    1. Thank you, Laura Marie! I resonate with your comment so much, I appreciate that you took the time to write it. Those times when we are swallowed alive by depression or anxiety, I’m sure has really shaped who we are as people.

  18. Stephen Fry in his 2-part video on being bipolar, said somewhere that he would not give up the way his brain thinks. That shocked me at first, but now I get it.

  19. Why did that shock you at first? What changed your mind to help you understand Stephen? Thank you for commenting, Oniker!

  20. They say ignorance is bliss and they are right! I remember who I was before my anxiety and I was so much more carefree. As I gained more knowledge of things around me….my anxiety grew. Yes, being more educated is a good thing, but it made what was already an OCD personality a lot worse.

    1. That is an interesting point of view, I agree with it though! There is so much out there to worry about. Thank you for commenting!

  21. I’ve felt exactly like that my whole life. I’m starting therapy today and sometimes I worry that I will loose a big part of me but at the same time I don’t want my mental problems to define me.

    1. That takes a lot of strength to start therapy! I hope that it goes well and that you and your therapist can work together well. Thank you for commenting!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.