May is mental health awareness month. In honor of such an important cause, I wanted to write a post directly to those struggling with mental health issues. So often mental illness is stigmatized, leading those that struggle with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or eating disorders to name a few, to feel isolated and alone. Let's work together towards eliminating the stigma, creating means for open communication, and letting go of judgement towards others and ourselves. To those of you reading this, who feel alone or stigmatized because of a diagnosis, this is for you.

You are not defined by your mental illness. Let me say that once more, because unfortunately we live in a world where very often you are told the exact opposite of this. You are not defined by your mental illness. You are not the "bipolar one in the family," you are someone living with bipolar disorder. You are not defined by your anxiety, you are a person who is living with anxiety.  You are not just a "depressed person," you are someone who has depression, as well as may other parts of themselves that add up to equal a whole person. You are not anorexic, you are someone struggling with anorexia. You are more than just a label.

We are whole. We are diverse. We are unique. While mental health issues can feel like they take over a large part of your existence, especially when they are more present than not, they are still not all of you. You are still a daughter, a son, a mother, a father, a wife, a husband, a partner, a parent, a sibling, a cousin, a friend, a person.

While on the surface this may sound like just semantics, it is so much deeper than that. So often we define ourselves by the things that have happened in our lives, by the issues we face, the job we have, the way we look. But what if we look deeper than that? What if we are more than a label? Ultimately the interpretation is up to us, so why limit ourselves, or place judgement on ourselves based on one part of a whole?

For some, a diagnosis of mental illness can be a relief, an explanation as to why we feel the way we do. A comfort in knowing that we are not alone, that there is a definition to what we are experiencing. But to others, this becomes a definition of the whole self. Some may lose their sense of identity in this label, forgetting that they are made up of so many intricate parts that make them beautifully whole.

The choice of how you define yourself is up to you. You can choose to recognize your mental health issues as a part of you, rather than all of you. You can be more than your struggles. You can choose to view your challenges as what makes you strong and resilient. The next time you hear someone define you or someone else as anything with an "ic" following the word (like bulimic or dyslexic) or a diagnosis in general, consider rephrasing this idea for them, as your words may be more impactful than you realize. You may be the first person to help them recognize that they are more than just their mental illness, they are whole, just as you are.

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