Being Mentally Ill vs. Having a Mental Illness

Last week I read an article discussing the differences between identifying as BEING mentally ill, as opposed to HAVING a mental illness. I don’t think I had ever really thought about how different the two terms are, but subconsciously I always did. When someone asked me what was wrong with me, more often than not I would say “I have major depressive disorder” or “I have depression” as opposed to “I am depressed”. There are of course times where I have said that I am depressed, but I always chose to say I have an illness. I’m not sure why, I suppose in my mind, it made it less my fault to say I have something, than to say I am something. I am not my mental illness. I am not depression. Depression is a huge part of my life, that has changed every single aspect of my life, especially the parts I never wanted it to touch, but it doesn’t make me my illness. I know that saying “I am depressed” doesn’t mean that I am my illness, or that it defines me completely, but it’s just easier to say that I have it. I feel like it disconnects me from my depression to say I simply have it, rather than I am depressed. The article went on to reiterate the sentiments I am currently expressing, about how people choose to identify as having a mental illness over saying “I am XYZ”. It got me thinking about how depression is the one that flip flops the most, in the sense that it’s quite common to hear “I am depressed” and “I have depression”. Funnily enough, depression is the weirdest one, because saying “I am depressed” or “I am SO depressed” holds LESS weight than “I have depression”. Why? People loosely use the term depression to just express sadness, such as “Ugh, I’m so depressed because Forever 21 didn’t have that jacket I’ve been wanting for forever in my size.” or even just saying “Ya, I’m just so depressed today”, when you really may not actually be depressed. Whereas saying “I have depression” actually means that you have the illness, and aren’t just saying you’re depressed. So then I started thinking about other mental illnesses that people have, and which one you hear people say more.

People say “I have OCD”, not “I am obsessive compulsive”. In that case, the latter sounds much more extreme.

“I have PTSD” vs. “I am post-traumatically stressed”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the latter in my entire life.

“I have severe anxiety” or “I get really anxious”. This is similar to depression, where saying you have the illness actually holds more weight than the latter, because of how anxiety is a commonly used term to express emotion.

For disorders like schizophrenia, there is minimal difference in extremeness of saying “I am schizophrenic” or “I have schizophrenia”. However, there is a strong distinction that I discussed earlier, of identifying as having a mental illness, or actually being that mental illness.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter how you say it, as long as it feels right to you and you’re comfortable with it. I tend to say “I have depression” more because I feel better saying that, because in my mind it makes it less of my responsibility, meaning that because it is something I have, and not something I am, it doesn’t have to be my fault. I know that depression isn’t my fault, and there’s nothing I could have done to not get it, because it just happened and wasn’t in my control, but I still feel really really guilty about it sometimes, to the point that I hesitate to express what I actually feel because of how I may burden people. I’m not ashamed of my depression anymore, but it doesn’t mean that I’m no longer afraid of how people will perceive me, or how they will feel about me. I think it’s just one of those insecurities I will have to accept, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I’d be a fool to not be worried that I may get some bad reactions to it. I’ve lost friends and close relationships because of my depression, and some people have disengaged because they don’t know how to react, which really hurt me but I also gained a lot and have become a better, stronger person because of it.

Keep Surviving by Living.


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