Living life on the borderline

Taking on a new identity.

Posted on: May 24, 2012

Hopefully this won’t be offensive to anyone, in general, with its topic matter. Warning for discussions of self harm, eating distress and general madness.


I think when one is first diagnosed with a mental health problem, or first realise it, or whatever… it can become strongly entrenched in your identity. Even others, actually especially others will make it your identity for you. I was Outwardly, the 16-year-old depressive, the 16-year-old self harmer, the 16-year-old bulimic. I was the “overdose in cubicle 3”, the “DSH, known to CAMHS” in the paediatric waiting room. I started out identifying with self harmers on forums, curious about the lifestyle of my brothers and sisters in this futile war against our physical selves. I identified with my brothers and sisters in the futile war against the next meal, the next concerned facial expression from a loved one, the next pound dropped.

Then I identified with the other young people held in a psychiatric unit. We, young people, the next generation, who were meant to be living “the best years of your life”. Drugged into oblivion, occasionally sparking into life when something interesting was on the hospital menu. Encouragement to get out of bed, to get dressed, to go to classes were met with the quite reasonable question: Why should I? Why should we, indeed, when this was how it was. Messed up crazy kids on a messed up crazy kids ward. No outside friends, brief phone calls to family on occasion, feeling the sun on our faces only if there were enough staff to control us outside. Yep. That was us, the Messed Up Crazy Kid Brigade.

Then you start wanting out. You don’t want to be the 18, 19, 20… heck, 40-year-old “DSH in cubicle 3”. You know that you have a condition or illness or distress to come to terms with, but you don’t want that to define you. You want people to look at you and think of how funny you are, or how bad you are at maths, or that time you wore that shirt that really shouldn’t have suited you but it did. You don’t want people to look at you and remember you being dragged into the back of an ambulance in the middle of the night. You don’t want people to talk to you and remember the time you screamed the vile details of being abused at them while dissociated.

Where is the equilibrium? How much can I forget, forge a new identity and yet still wonder what other people will remember of me? Is there actually anybody in there, in me, apart from the madness? Who would I have been, had none of this ever happened to me?


4 Responses to "Taking on a new identity."

I’ve often asked myself the question you posed at the end of this post. I never have an answer.

All narratives of myself involve mental illness – even a confident, working, popular imaginary future me. My sense is that at least to some extent, it’s something that’ll never leave us entirely.

But that said, although I’m not well enough just yet to return to work as such, I am finally looking at myself in wider terms – a daughter, lover, friend, nerd, writer, reader, pubber, animal lover etc…oh, and a mental health outpatient too.

The fact that you’re even considering what your new identity may be is a really encouraging sign. In the throes of illness it’s all but impossible, at least in my experience. You’ll get there eventually, I’m sure – I think it’s just one of those things that develops itself when you’re in the recovery process.

Sorry for rambling on! Sending best wishes to you 🙂

Take care

Viv x

As a 20 year old, I can so relate to what youve written about in relation to mental health issues becoming part of your identity. x

It’s so quick that people put you into that ‘oh,thats the crazy girl’ box, it’s hard to get out. Take care x

[…] considers the identity and mental illness and asks some poignant questions. Then you start wanting out. You don’t want to be the 18, 19, […]

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About the blogger.

I'm an 18 year old girl/woman/person of the female gender who blogs about growing up, living with mental health problems and her experience with the NHS mental health services, both CAMHS and CMHTs. Expect plenty of teenage angst and general craziness. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

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