Being Me: A Series on Intersectionality (Part 1)

Since being diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses, I’ve done a ton of research about it. I learned all the science behind it, what parts of my brain weren’t doing their job properly, what medications would alter what neurotransmitters to make things better. I treated it like a science project, because it had to be 100% science since my life has been pretty good. But I’ve spent the better part of this past year learning that isn’t always the case, and I’ve learned that who I am and what I am impact my mental health. I started looking deep into parts of my identity I didn’t think of before, and started trying to understand their place, and I noticed that a lot of my identity feels fragmented, because they are so different, and they don’t always fit together.

People like fitting into boxes because it gives them a sense of community. More than that, people like putting others into boxes and assigning them labels. Girl. Canadian. Muslim. Gay. Brown. These are some of my labels. Some I’ve given myself, some have been assigned to me. Part of my mental health issues come from having a ton of labels, and not knowing how they can coexist because of what society has said about them. I don’t know how they can cleanly coexist, and it’s been a messy process, but I want to share some of this messiness with you. Maybe you have some messiness too.

These next few posts will focus on intersectionality, and the parts of my identity that have undoubtedly influenced my mental health along the way. They may force you to check your privilege, and think about the parts of your identity that may have been worn down or denied by society. Maybe you’ll relate to my experiences in your own way, or maybe they will be things you never thought of before. All I ask is that you follow along with an open mind and heart, and I’ll reciprocate with open and honest communication throughout.

There is a concept called “minority stress”, which in simple terms, means that people who are part of a minority group can be more prone to higher levels of continuous stress that come with being a part of that group. This stress can make marginalized folks more likely to experience serious mental health issues and mental illness. I’ll talk about this a little bit more in some of the other posts.

I believe identity is a constant struggle – at least, for me it always has been. I don’t see it as a bad thing, rather that the struggle can be a catalyst for change and adaptation as we learn and grow. But it is still a struggle. It is a struggle to learn how to acknowledge and honor the conflict in parts of your identity – it turns a whole person into fragmented pieces that can be at war and don’t know their place and value. Eventually though, you can learn to build bridges between them, and those bridges are everything.

It’s a matter of learning to be more than one thing at a time, and giving each of those parts enough space to grow and be nurtured.

Imagine a garden with a finite amount of water and sunlight. You know you don’t have enough for every single one of your plants, so how do you pick which thrives and which dies? How do you get to justify it by attributing greater value to one plant, the plant that lives, because it means the “lesser” has to die. If you give a little water to each one, no plant gets enough and they all die. It may be a slower death, but they still die. You can’t win unless you get more water. That is the identity struggle when you are so intersectional – the amount of water you get isn’t enough, and it’s somehow your fault or problem that you don’t have more. It’s enough water for other people, because maybe some of their plants can grow in the same flower pot and find ways to share what water they need. Maybe they have symbiotic relationships and actually help each other grow. My plants are solo organisms – if placed together, they will destroy each other. The beta fish of the plant world, if you will.

My next few posts will focus on different “plants” in my life – different parts of my identity that shape who I am today, and how they’ve impacted my mental health. How they’ve made me stronger, but also weakened me, and how being intersectional can be a confusing and rich experience all at the same time.

Looking back, I believe that my suicidal ideation was born from a tiredness of slowly killing little parts of me to appease another. Watch the plants wilt away, watch myself burn from the inside out. Bit by bit, parts were getting chipped away. I got tired of choosing what lived and what died, tired of watching helplessly, tired of the idea of not being enough being constantly reinforced, tired of the shame, tired of my slow, painful withering. So it made sense to put off the inevitable, and finish it all in one full swoop. I convinced myself I was choosing me, all of me, not one small part that I was told to. But really, I was deeply failing each part by not giving it the opportunity to grow. I’m starting to take the long, hard road, and learn how to get more water. I want to learn how to make my plants adapt so they can live together. I used to think I could make my plants need less water. But now I’m learning that I deserve all the water I need for all my little identity plants. Sometimes I need help with getting enough water or watering them, and it’s okay to ask for help. If you have any “gardening tips”, I’d love to hear them 🙂

Keep Surviving by Living.

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