By Sarah C. Pitman
We have all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Okay. Then, what’s in a word? If you look in a dictionary at the definition of any word, chances are you will find several distinct meanings. Now, what if we replaced “word” with a specific mental illness? I am willing to bet that there would be multiple unique definitions as well...
As a society, these days it is so common to place labels on and to categorize people by their actions and beliefs. And also, their diagnoses. This way, we can easily “understand” or pretend to understand and empathize. We can find similarities and offer advice--all with good intentions, of course. This comes at a cost, though. When we label people based on one teeny part of their whole being, it can be limiting and almost suffocating to that individual. In the case of mental illness, no one’s journey is the same. Sure, there may be shared experiences, symptoms, but that is not the full story, not the full person. Yet, to someone on the other side, someone with a mental illness, someone struggling, it can feel that the diagnosis is all that is heard.
Recently, I have been delving back into blogging and social media, sharing my journey and recovery process with whoever cares to read--for now, it’s mainly just my family and close friends. It is healing for me to feel as though I have the space to share and open up. I feel less alone. I am allowing myself to be vulnerable. I am putting my “illness” and disease out there. For right now, it is a part of me. Keyword: PART. Not whole.
Over the years, I have struggled with mental illness--being diagnosed with several, the most obvious and “categorizing” one is anorexia. 307.1. DSM V. There it is. I, Sarah, am anorexic. I am not ashamed of it. But, that is such a small part of who I see myself as.
Having any mental illness, does in part, add to the “definition” of a person, however it is not the whole person--it is not the whole identity. Yet, it can seem that it is all that matters to the outside world: all that anyone sees us as. We are urged to “hide it”, sweep it under the rug, pretend it doesn’t exist. Those who love us are fearful that by sharing, we are allowing the mental illness itself to define us. In whole. My mom warned me against my public profiles and posts. Aren’t I worried about how people might perceive me? Aren’t I worried about the image of myself that I am putting out there? Aren’t I ashamed or embarrassed? Do I really want everyone knowing all that?
Guess what. It is society’s interpretation of these “labels”, these single “categories”, these “diagnoses” that we are given that is defining us.
I just said it. Three paragraphs above. I will be open and scream it. I, Sarah Christine Pitman, am anorexic. I am also a free spirit, a yogi, a daughter, a writer, a mathematician, a girlfriend, a soul sister, a strong fighter, a warrior, a human being, and more. For right now, I am struggling with my illness. Maybe it’s “defining” me a bit more and playing a larger role in my identity right now. But it certainly isn’t all of me. I have talents. I have a brain. I have emotions. I have feelings. I am like you. Those of us with mental illness diagnoses are like you. We are more.
And we would like you to understand that. As caretakers, friends, family, etc., the most important thing you can do to help us is to show compassion and welcome us with open arms. Please do not “shame” us by urging us not to share. Instead of defining someone and labeling him/her as that diagnosis, and that diagnosis only, let a person’s actions and beliefs define him/her, as well. Please do not assume that you know us because you have read about a teeny part of us. You want honesty, authenticity and sharing, yet by having such a negative stigma surrounding mental illness, how can we feel comfortable sharing? Mental illness is everywhere. It comes in different shapes, sizes, degrees, colors, types… For more tips on how to help someone who might be suffering form a mental illness check out our blog post "3 EASY WAYS TO HELP SOMEONE WHO SUFFERS FROM A MENTAL ILLNESS".
A diagnosis serves as a guideline, not a limitation. A part. Not the whole. Just as you may be a doctor, an artist, a lawyer, a teacher, you are more. You would have more to add to that to describe you, right?
And so do we.
Meet our Author Sarah Pitman
When asked what she does, Sarah replies with "spread sunshine through yoga, meditation, and creative expression." She may get the occasional blank stare, but it's the truth. Sharing her story and her message through yoga and writing is how she heals, and has been her greatest form of therapy. Since moving to LA last year, she has received her yoga teacher training certification, mentored and assisted additional trainings and workshops, and explored blogging and writing. Currently, she is receiving her advanced training in restorative yoga to both aid in her own recovery and for her professional aspirations. She incorporates breath, meditation, and alignment through conscious body awareness in her classes, preferring more gentle flows and philosophical teaching. For her, the combination of yoga and writing is a journey of self, and is always evolving. She teaches private and corporate classes in-person and online, and also collaborates with health and wellness companies worldwide, through social media, writing, marketing, and instruction. Encouraging acceptance for all is her mission. Just "keep shining"...