In my last post, I ended my introduction with,
“My name is Karen, I am a Christian, and I am bipolar.”
Just ten days later, I need to retract that statement. Well, may not retract it completely, but rephrase it a bit:
Yes, my name is Karen.
Yes, I am a Christian.
No, I am not bipolar.
I have bipolar, bipolar type 2 to be exact.
I’ve struggled with my identity for almost my entire life. Not as much in elementary school – elementary school was fantastic for me, actually. But I think it all started in middle school – after my grandpa died.
My grandpa’s passing is a story (*ahem* the introduction to my mental illness story) we’ll get to another day. But today, we’ll use it to quickly describe what happened when my grandpa died:
My grandpa lived with us our entire life. Technically, we lived with him, but again that’s for another day. So when he died, and one of the people I loved most in the world was suddenly just gone, I think that’s when I begin to question my identity. I could no longer be “grandpa’s girl,” so who was I?
Of course, I wasn’t asking these questions to my 12 year old self. Instead, I just started putting my heart into different things, using hobbies, activities, movies, and books to describe myself:
I’m a Star Wars fan. I’m a Harry Potter fan. I’m an Anne Rice fanatic. I’m nervous around new people. I stutter when I read out loud. I just get really sad. I hate going to school. I’m bad at taking tests.
As I entered high school, my identities changed and grew with me:
I’m a band geek. I’m a drama kid. I dress punk/goth/in my sweatpants cause I just don’t care anymore. I’m the girl whose hair color always changes (this is still very true). I’m so-and-so’s girlfriend. I’m anxious. I’m depressed.
Then college and my adult life began, I took on more identities:
I’m a professional photographer. I’m a writer. I’m so-and-so’s ex-girlfriend. I’m so-and-so’s fiancée, and I’m so-and-so’s ex-fiancée. I’m sick. I’m scared. I’m still depressed. I’m a nanny. I’m a barista. I am an administrator. I am Cameron’s wife.
Finally, the eye opening one came:
I am bipolar.
Just looking back at all of these are overwhelming. There are so many things I’ve identified myself with, so many labels I put on myself. Things that I at one point or another truly saw myself as. And the scariest one to me has been, “I am bipolar.”
I’ve decided to start identifying myself in all of these. Even the good things and the silly things, even “I am Cameron’s wife.” I am no longer identifying myself in these labels, titles, roles, jobs, illnesses, movies, books.
For now on, I am identifying myself in two ways:
I am Karen Oden – because that is my name, and I am who the Lord created me to be.
I am a Christian, a child of God, the One who created me in His image.
I am Karen, I am a Christian, and I have bipolar.
My mental illness doesn’t define who I am, it doesn’t dictate who I am. Yes, from day to day to it may effect my mood, it can effect how I react to words, it may make it hard for me to get out of bed, it may keep from from having the best day every. But my bipolar doesn’t control my whole entire life. I have the ability to have a decent day, because God has blessed me with doctors who care for me and are working with me to find the right medications. I am able to realize when I’m in the midst of a mood swing or when I am acting manic because God has provided me with a therapist who has taught me how to recognize these changes in behavior. I am able to turn to my husband and say, “I’m sorry for what I said, I’m having one of my days,” because God gave me a man who loves me unconditionally and happens to be the most patient man on this planet.
Though there are days that it doesn’t feel like it, my mental illness is exactly that – an illness. It doesn’t control me, unless I allow it to control me. It doesn’t define me, unless I allow it to define me. It’s part of who I am, just like my pink hair, my blue eyes, my nose that just wiggles a lot. I have a mental illness, but I am not a mental illness.
I have bipolar, but I am not bipolar.
I am Karen, and I am a child of God.