I get annoyed when people refer to me by my mental illness, "Claire's mentally ill." "She's anorexic." No. Stop. I have a mental illness, I am not a mental illness. I have anorexia, I am not anorexia. It's the same as when people instantly jump in and ask about my weight or eating habits before they ask about anything else. I have received numerous private messages asking what my BMI is, not how my day has been or what my talents or interests are, simply a "What is your BMI?" as if that is all I am worth. Am I only an eating disorder? Am I only a mental health patient? Is the only thing worth knowing about me my weight? No. I am putting my foot down because whist these illnesses do take up a huge chunk of my life, they are not my life, they are not me. I am Claire.
My identity is not my mental illness, I will tell you who I am, who Claire is. I am a passionate, hardworking young woman, I love creativity, writing, collaging, baking, photography, and craft. If it's creative then I can almost guarantee I love it. I'm a dancer and have danced many different styles throughout my life, at this moment in time I street dance. I'm a family person and my mum is my best friend, I love nothing more than spending evenings snuggled up in my pyjamas with my family and good TV. I love laughing. I love the outdoors. I love fashion and I cannot sleep without my dog snuggled in next to me on my bed. I campaign for better mental health for everyone in our society, I've been on television and radio many times and have also spoken to an audience of 450 people about anorexia. The last few months have been so busy but it's all been positive and amazing. There is nothing more frustrating than exhausting yourself to make a positive impact on other people's mental health and then coming back to a question or statement in which people refer to me as my mental illness.
I used to live my life thinking I was only my mental illness, I felt like I was a hollow shell and that Claire had gone and only anorexia and a beating heart remained. That has changed, I have anorexia but anorexia does not have me. I have a mental illness but I am not a mental illness. I am not recovered, not at all but I am living and I feel like I get a glimpse of Claire, of the real me, almost every single day. I smile and laugh and show affection, I have hobbies, interests, passions and opinions. I am a human being, I am alive and my mental illnesses do not define me.
Don't refer to me by my mental illness, in fact don't refer to anybody by their mental illness. It is not acceptable to say "She's bipolar" or "She's OCD", there is so much more to a person than the mental illness they had no choice over getting. Describe people by their style, their talents, their personality traits or achievements. Don't ask me how much I weigh, ask me what made me smile today. It's more than okay to talk about mental health and to ask people about their mental illness, those conversations need to happen and are so important but don't make it someone's identity. Change the phrasing, say "He has bipolar" instead of "He's bipolar" and don't make someone's mental illness the only descriptive thing that you say about someone. There is so much more to someone than their mental illness.