Redefining Ourselves After the Diagnosis of Mental Illness

When first diagnosed with a mental illness our lives--and the lives of those closest to us--change drastically. For lack of a better cliche: like night and day; black and white. We know, instinctively, that our lives will never be the same. Sometimes, we fear they will become more difficult, or we will forget who we were prior to diagnosis. It often feels as if we are losing a part of ourselves--our "self." And that's scary. Let's explore why we may feel this way.

Why Do We Feel We Might Lose Ourselves After the Diagnosis?

First, I want to explore the definition of "self."

Wikipedia, in few words, defines self as:

The self is an individual person as the object of his or her own reflective consciousness

OK. So, that's as straightforward as it can be, but sort of confusing. Perhaps, delving into the word "consciousness" will make things more clear.

Wikipedia defines consciousness as:

Consciousness is the quality or state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. . .It has been defined as. . .the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood

I'm starting to feel as if I have been reading my old psychology textbooks. This is not a good thing; exceedingly boring. That said, I'm going to try to summarize the "self" and it's connection to "consciousness", before we delve into the fear surrounding losing who we were prior to the diagnosis of mental illness.

Connecting "Self" with "Consciousness" in the Context of Mental Illness

Before we are diagnosed with a mental illness we all have things we believe in, different life experiences, things that have made us smile and made us cry. We have all experienced love and lost. We are conscious of this. Our life experiences, little things like our favorite foods and taste in music, they contribute to self. How we define ourselves.

But what happens when you are suddenly diagnosed with a mental illness? You probably feel as if you are not the same person you were before the diagnosis and, well, you are not. You will not ever be the same.

We are conscious of this fact, whether we realize it or not, and it can be terrifying. Feeling as if you have lost part of yourself, feeling as if you will not be able to get it back, leaves us feeling lost. To say the least.

Putting a Positive Spin on the Diagnosis of Mental Illness

This is not easy, and is directly tied to coming to a place of acceptance regarding our mental illness. We suddenly need to learn an entire new way to live: self-care becomes important, educating ourselves and others about our illness, making an effort to visit our mental health care team, and coming to an understanding that we probably need to take medication to become well. For the rest of our lives.

The reality is as simple as it is complicated: We won't ever be the same, but if we work hard, we can become a better version of who we were before. A healthy and stable person who can move through life a little--or a lot--easier.

That aside, this post became more complicated than I wanted it to be, but working to figure the whole mess out--the diagnosis and the work it takes to become stable and healthy--is complicated.

An Attempted Summary. . .

We are all affected by large changes in life, not just related to mental health, and we all struggle to redefine ourselves. I believe that the process we take, consciously, allows us to grow as human beings. Change is constant in life and so to is our ability to accept who we become and who we have been.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, May 20). Redefining Ourselves After the Diagnosis of Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Judy Bush
May, 25 2013 at 3:06 pm

Beautifully stated. I received my diagnosis at the age of 46 and it's considerably more difficult to accept let alone live with but I do. Sandra, your comment is exactly how I feel. I don't care to ever go back to that but life experiences don't always allow that. What I have learned is that I am still the same person I always was but now I just have to work with my illness so it doesn't completely get me again.

Sandra L. Flaada
May, 25 2013 at 6:49 am

You are correct when you say we don't know who we are after diagnosis. That was true for me also. However, as I continued with therapy I was very happy to put aside who I was before. I remembered a lot of bad experiences as the months/years went by--I didn't like who they made me and how I lived my life. Truth set me free of that person. So in this way, a negative became a positive and even though I have a mental illness,depression, PTSD and DID, I am a better me--I don't want to go back to who I was.

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