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  • Writer's pictureGabriel Keye

Take a good look at yourself: a tough love talk about self-image

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

As I’ve gone along in my healing journey, I’ve come across a dangerous mistake many people make: identifying with their illness. Please don’t get defensive or feel attacked by this post; it’s not meant to make you feel bad or foolish. I’m discussing this topic because many of us have a dangerous mentality regarding our challenges that not only dig our holes deeper but buries us in them.

Folks on Twitter have their list of diagnoses as their bios, people in DBT groups talk about their trauma being who they are, and I know individuals who talk about it constantly during almost every conversation they have. Just like vegans that never fail to mention they're vegans or stoners who never stop talking about legalization, many of us depend on our suffering for our identities. In fact, some people are subconsciously afraid of recovering, because that would mean losing who they think they are. It’s one of the many tricks our minds play on us, and we need to stop falling for it.

And I get it, okay? Some days, my symptoms can be rather debilitating, so I understand the feeling -- I used to be the same way. Hell, I write a blog about life with PTSD for crying out loud, so even now I’m walking a fine line. But I’m more than my struggles, and so are you.

When you make yourself your trauma, you give it so much power. Everything in your life, from achievements to pitfalls, is viewed through the lens of affliction. Successes are despite the illness as opposed to being a testament to your merit. Failures are bound to happen because you’re damaged and somehow less as opposed to being a human being.

Aren’t you tired of that? Aren’t you tired of fighting day in and day out? Consider your illness to be like a bully or a mugger. When you’re fighting against a bully, are you that bully? Are you giving yourself the wedgies, swirlies, and face punches? No, you’re trying to escape. You go home and think “Wow, that guy’s an asshole. Who the hell would ever want to hang out with that guy?” If you get mugged and someone steals your wallet, they have your wallet. You cannot steal your own wallet. Not only can I not imagine how that would be possible, but it’s also a ridiculous thing to attempt. Don’t trick yourself into being a quisling; you need to differentiate yourself from your enemy. So let’s look at this differently, okay?

Say you’re sneezing, coughing, and God knows what else. It sucks, but colds happen to the best of us. In this situation, do you look in the mirror and say “Oh no! I’m a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract! A mucus monger! A dark lord of the larynx!” No, you don’t. You say “Fuck, this is not how I wanted to spend my weekend.” Because you are not a rhinovirus. The same goes for trauma. You are not an event that happened in the past, nor are you the creation of someone else's choices. You may have something unpleasant, but you are not that thing. You’re you.

Now, I can’t tell you who you are. That’s for you to find out and you alone. Every person is unique and ineffable. We all are so much more than the acronyms given to us. We are people, not diagnoses. When you look in the mirror, you are not looking at an event that transpired years ago. You are looking at you. And it’s okay if you’re not sure who you are. Life is largely about finding that out, and you’re not alone in that endeavor. The important thing is that you acknowledge what you find and not hide behind what you’ve told yourself you are. Because you might like what you find.

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