I don’t have anything profound to say about the past year. I’m not even going to pretend like I do, because it was a mess. It was a special kind of mess. It was one of those years that forces you to change. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I hate change more than anything. I didn’t have much of a choice. I faked it till I made it and after a while I didn’t have to fake it anymore.
My close friend recently shared a quote with me when I was feeling a little lost about what direction to go this year. It’s a well-known line attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald but actually belongs to the screenwriter of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that you’ve probably heard before. It goes like this:
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
This past year made me stronger and more independent, but it also made me hurt and made me doubt myself. Relationships ended and mistakes were made. In the past week, I’ve made decisions to remove toxic people and habits from my life, danced around in my underwear to Taylor Swift’s reputation, noticed my tummy rolls while I was bent in humble warrior during daily yoga practice and I smiled and said ‘F*** it I LOVE you soft belly!’ This year, I am going to start all over again.
My mom says that if you don’t see yourself as a good and worthy human then how can anyone else see you as such? I think that’s true. Proverb 31:10-31 is my favorite one and asks the question ‘Who can find a woman of worth?’ I can’t say that I have magically found my direction. I would like to find a job or fall in love, and I am ready to believe that I am a woman of worth, one that is worthy of good things.
A lot of that comes from my time at the Carriage House. The Clubhouse organization has surprised me and impressed me, and it is one that I want to advocate for until the day I die (dramatic, I know). It inspired a project that makes me especially excited for the year ahead.
I am working with a dear friend on the ‘I Am’ campaign, a project aimed at adapting people-first language for those living with mental illness. The purpose is to put ‘people first, illness second.’ While I was at the Carriage House, I knew that all the members had a diagnosed mental illness but I didn’t actually know what each individual member had. I never identified people as ‘Ah, Don with the schizophrenia’ or ‘bipolar Katie.’ It was ‘Don, who loves government and politics’ or ‘Katie who has the winning smile.’ For a place dedicated towards mental illness recovery and community, we rarely talked about mental illness.
Before I learned about the Clubhouse model, I needed my label. My diagnosis was an integral part of who I was, perhaps the most important part. Somewhere in a doctor’s office was a file that said ‘Susan Zhu: generalized anxiety disorder and moderate to major depressive.’ When I couldn’t get out of bed for a few days, it was because I was depressed. When I felt like I couldn’t breathe, it was because I had anxiety. It was easier to live my life under the guise of my label. I thought I was nothing without it. I dedicated my life to mental health awareness because I wanted to make sure people knew that mental illness was common and it could affect anyone.
I defined myself by my diagnosis. I thought that was the correct thing to do. But after meeting with members who grew their self-confidence and self-esteem and self-efficacy, my foundation began to crumble. Was I contributing to the prejudice and ‘othering’ of those with mental illness by emphasizing my own illness? I was smart, kind and thoughtful in spite of my illness. Could I be smart, kind, thoughtful and anxious or depressed? It was as if all of my good traits existed in the background of my illness instead of my illness existing in the background.
The point of the ‘I am’ campaign is to change the rhetoric from ‘I am mentally ill’ to ‘I have a mental illness.’ No longer should a diagnosis or label be the defining factor of a person. I no longer want to live in the shadow of my label, and I don’t think anyone else should either.
I am hoping that the campaign will also adjust the stigma towards mental illness. People with mental illness are still people, and it pains me that I still have to say that because many people still struggle with accepting it.
On a lighter note, I am excited to announce the revamping of my blog Instagram. I will be posting about the ‘I am’ campaign as well as bits and pieces normally found on lifestyle blogs. You can follow me on @_thisisshe__ (there are two dashes at the end).
The light in me honors the light in you,