Who am I Without my Mental Illness?

March 06, 2024
black and white photo of female presenting person sitting on couch looking away from camera.
Written by Monica Camacho, Student Intern 

Recovering from mental illness is such a scary journey. Even if you know that at the end of the tunnel there is healing and a chance to live a happier life, the unknowns of how you will work on that recovery can be terrifying and make the journey much more daunting.

Anyone who has battled mental illness for a while may find themselves questioning their healing or find themselves “being scared to heal.” It can be hard for us to embrace recovery because we fear we may lose our sense of identity.

I recently had a conversation with someone who told me they are scared of healing because they do not know themselves without their depression. To say I have had this conversation with others multiple times is an understatement. I have talked with clients, friends, family about this topic. Together let’s explore and discover the complex emotions associated with this fear while discussing strategies you can take to navigate the path toward self-discovery beyond mental illness.

You are a creature of habit. When it comes to mental illness and how it manifests in your life, you’ve become used to it and know what to expect with it. So much so, that mental illness often becomes intertwined in your identity. Mental illness shapes your thoughts, behaviors, and even daily routines. In a cosmic sense mental illness can become a sort of comfort because we know it and it becomes familiar. Especially the longer you have dealt with it. It is all you know and how you have managed and coped for so long.

Because recovery sheds this familiarity and identity we have within our mental illness, the fear of change begins to creep in. The fear of losing ourselves starts to settle in. The question of “who am I without my depression, anxiety, trauma etc.,” kicks into full gear. You start to question if you’d rather deal and suffer with your mental health rather than question your whole being. As you are recovering from mental illness, you are also rediscovering who you are without it. Just like peeling an onion, you are peeling the layers of negative coping skills and the lies spoken by your mental illness that have built up overtime.

I am not in any way saying this process is easy because it is not. It is hard work that can lead to an identity crisis because you will question yourself, values, interests, passions, relationships and much more. What I am saying though is that it is so worth it. It is worth it to live as a truly happy and confident person without fear of suffering from the pain of your negative thinking.

So what do I do?

Well chances are you probably are already taking the first step and that is seeking support. Reach out to your therapist, sign up for a support group, or reach out to friends, family or other people who have gone through this process themselves. This journey is not to be made alone. Having someone who cares and wants best for you is vital and having someone who knows the process well can help calm the thoughts down when it is overwhelming.

Finding Acceptance:

Understanding you are not your mental illness, nor does it define you is vital. Yes, it has shaped a part of your journey, but it is not your entire identity. Accepting that recovery means rediscovering yourself and not erasing who you are, is when the journey begins.

Self Reflect:

Self-reflecting can give you a lot more insight than you may think. Spend some time
journaling, meditating, and practicing mindfulness will be helpful. These exercises will help you gain insight into your true authentic self and what bring you joy and fulfillment. I recommend using the resources from Self-compassion.org Dr. Kristin Neff is the formost researcher in self compassion and her website has many exercises that can help you find self compassion and reflect on your fears.

Be patient with yourself:

You are never going to stop learning about yourself. This will be a long and beautiful journey. And this journey takes time. Remember recovery is not linear, and it is okay to have setbacks. It is essential to be compassionate towards yourself throughout the process.

In the end, the fear of losing your identity when recovering from mental illness is a common and valid concern. But, it’s important to remember that recovery is not about erasing who you are but discovering your true authentic self that has been overshadowed by the mental illness. Embrace the journey, seek support, be compassionate with yourself. Take all the small and important steps you need to get there. You have your whole life ahead of you. A brighter and healthier future is ahead. You are going to find out that your mental illness does not make you, you. What make you, you is your strength, resilience and unique qualities that have always been apart of you.

You got this!


If you are looking for a therapist to help you assess for depression, anxiety or trauma and to guide you to recovery from mental illness schedule a consultation call Contact Us.


We offer in person therapy in Central Florida, Orlando, Orange County and Osceola County. We offer virtual therapy throughout the state of Florida. Learn more about our treatment approaches here

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