I’ve always wanted to think I have a strong sense of self. The truth is, as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with my identity. Before I even knew what mental illness was, way before I had seen any sort of diagnosis, I vividly remember struggling with ‘who’ I was, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realised that identity crisis’ are so common where poor mental health is present.
A ‘stable’ identity is defined as being ‘the same across different environments’ with ‘consistent beliefs, values and personality’, whereas an ‘unstable’ identity is defined as being shown through ‘regular, radical changes in beliefs and opinions’. I can say for certain that throughout my life, I have been closer to the latter definition. From being young, my ideas on how I wanted to spend my time and how I wanted to dress would regularly and drastically shift. Although this is probably quite normal for a lot of children, it started to feel different once it continued into drastic changes in more important aspects of my life as I have grown older. For example: my life goals, general opinions and flakiness, religious beliefs, political beliefs and how I present myself in different situations.
So I have found myself in the midst of an age-long identity crisis; feeling disconnected from myself, whoever that is, and feeling almost hypocritical at a lot of times. I can honestly say that this has had a massive effect on my confidence, as it is difficult growing up feeling surrounded by people who look to have a ‘stable’ identity, and not knowing why you don’t feel the same.
Most people think struggles with identity develop in childhood and teenage years, and now, I can understand that. It hasn’t been until the last year or so of my life that I have been able to consider the fact that mental health issues in adolescence could have had this sort of impact on my life, as these struggles can hinder the development of a strong identity. One thing I found, especially when I first started experiencing obvious signs of poor mental health, is that, not only is it easy to identify with your illness above everything else, this brings with it a whole load of distorted and self-critical thoughts. Then it is made easy to start negatively labelling yourself (especially when you feel out of sync with the ‘standards’ of other people around you) leading to not only an unstable identity, but now in your own mind, a very negative one. Anyone that understands what I mean by this will know that this can cause ridiculous amounts of consuming insecurity, in turn creating a toxic cycle that causes more difficulty figuring out who you are past your own poor mental health. It makes you feel stuck, embarrassed and lost.
So, moving forward. How do we even begin? I’m only just starting to figure that out, but I’m getting there bit by bit. I think acknowledgement and acceptance are super important. It’s okay to be unsure who you are or what you want. You don’t need to define yourself. I feel that in some ways it comes down to taking some pressure off yourself, and others. Everything is easier said than done when it comes to mental health, but I think that it is important to start to accept your own life for where it is and allow yourself to believe that how you feel in every moment is valid, no matter how you have felt before. Begin to try to let go of comparisons to people around you, and to ideas you have about yourself, and it gets easier to make these decisions authentically and form a stronger sense of self.