This Q&A originally published in the August 2022 Newsletter from Embracing the Unexpected. Make sure to subscribe to Maree's newsletters here.
Q: Darcie, what part of your mental health diagnosis do you wish others could understand?
"Do you know me, really know me?"
You wouldn't think the question, "Do you know me?" would spill from the lips of one of the most famous and memorable women of the 1950s and 1960s, but Marilyn Monroe often wondered this. She wanted to know if people really saw her for who she was and not just the dumb blonde sex symbol she often portrayed.
Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson, had a torn upbringing. Her mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and depression, and Marilyn never had a relationship with her father. Marilyn lived in foster homes and an orphanage throughout her childhood until she married for the first time at sixteen. She endured sexual abuse starting when she was only eight years old.
She struggled with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, insomnia, bipolar disorder, and eventually substance abuse. Marilyn visited a psychotherapist regularly and stayed in the mental hospital. Her mental health struggles, especially with identity, stemmed from the childhood trauma of abandonment and molestation. She tragically ended her battle by taking her life at age thirty-six.
A: I wish people see me for who I am and not my mental illness diagnosis. There's a big difference between living with a mental illness and identifying as your illness.
The Battle for Identity
Marilyn Monroe's agonizing story reminds me of my past struggle with identity. I lost my sense of self when I was in the middle of an intense battle with depression and anxiety. Because I couldn't see past my current state of hopelessness and despair, I began to identify with my mental illness.
Staring in the mirror, I no longer recognized myself or knew who I was, so how could others honestly know me? I thought this state of mind would determine the dark and crooked path of the rest of my life.
But God illuminated my path with His light and set my feet on the straight and narrow (Proverbs 3:5-6). Friend, as a caretaker of a loved one, you are one of the lamps lighting the path. While as challenging as it may be, you have the honor and humbling role of ministering to a broken soul. As a caretaker, it is crucial to help your loved ones establish a healthy view of themselves -- one found in the unconditional love of Jesus.
Identity is Found in Christ Alone
No longer in the mire and muck of despair, I can surely tell you that my identity is in Christ and nothing else. Our identity in Jesus is one of newness. Paul spreads this good news in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."
God taught me how to accept this gift of becoming new again by simply starting over every day. Not every day was an advance into a better position. Some days would have me failing a grade or three, but every morning was a chance for a do-over. Each day God would gently refine my character, building a new Christ-like version of me.
Securing Identity in Recovery
Not only does your loved one need your help with identity in the middle of a trial, but they also need reassurance during remission.
Not every character trait and quirk is a result of a mental illness. We are all subject to experience different moods whether we have a diagnosed mental disorder or not. There will be times of excessive joy and boisterous reactions, sad seasons, good days, and bad days.
From personal experience, I understand the need to monitor excessive mood swings based on diagnosed conditions. But, I also know I can't let my diagnosis stop me from being who God made me and living life with highs, lows, and in-betweens.