My husband was waiting for me to finish my nightly bedtime routine as I filled him in on all that had happened at a writing workshop I’d attended earlier that day. I leaned on the bathroom counter, my face lathered with soap, and said, “I just don’t want to be ‘the depression and anxiety girl’.”
The workshop had done its job: it clarified my niche in writing and helped me to narrow my focus on how to best serve you, my reader. That was a good thing. My issue, though, was with the fact that I felt called to write even more about my experiences with mental illness. I am passionate about transparency and vulnerability, but I didn’t want my online writing space and thus, my online identity, to become one centered on my struggles.
I think we all can do that from time to time. Whether we like it or not, mean to or not, we look at our past and our present and decide that will be our future. We look at what has happened to us and allow that to define who we are. We look at the circumstances and the struggles and give those things the power to determine our identities.
“This happened to me. This is my life. I can’t undo it, so this is who I am now,” we think, so we settle in to the identity that’s been chosen for us, accepting that maybe that’s the label meant for us. Nothing more than a victim…a patient…a widow…a single mom…a divorcee. We are unemployed…single…childless. We want something else, but the facts of our lives scream so loudly in our minds that we can’t imagine anything else. The label is there.
Sometimes the label comes from ourselves. Sometimes it comes from other people. Either way, it sticks.
For me, mental illness is the persistent thorn in my flesh. God had made it clear to me that I needed to talk about it even more – to write about it and open up about it and become a go-to person for those who struggle similarly. That’s my trial and a trait of my life, but my spirit resisted it becoming my title. That’s just not who I wanted to be.
So that night, emotionally and physically tired from my weekend away, I sighed as I leaned over the sink to rinse my face. When I finished, my husband – the one who knows me better than anyone else in this world – put his hand on my arm, looked me in the eye, and said, “You’re not the ‘depression and anxiety girl’. You’re the ‘hope and light girl’.”
I stopped and looked at him, the my eyes unable to contain the tears that had already been pressing there. He raised his eyebrows and nodded, giving me one of those looks a parent might give a child. It was a look of loving insistence that says, “You hear me, right? Do you really hear what I’m saying?”
“Do you really think so? Is that what I am? Is that who I can be? Because….I like that a lot better.”
I could cry, even now. He looked at me and told me who he saw in me. Who he thinks I am. Who he, in his heart, believes me to be.
As much as that meant to me (and it meant a lot), I’ve felt a different shift in myself recently. Writing to serve you with hope and light has made me more in touch with my struggles, so they’ve been in the forefront of my mind all the time. I read articles about mental illness. I watch Netflix specials about it. I gravitate to discussions about it. I’m even more aware of my own symptoms from day to day. Whereas months ago I resisted the idea of the world seeing me as “the depression and anxiety girl,” I’ve begun seeing myself that way. I didn’t want other people to slap that label on me, but when I look in the mirror, I see it plain as day. Without realizing it, I put it there myself.
I’ve been reminded, though – through wise friends and timely sermons and personal quiet time – that anything in the world can become my identity if I let it. Anything about my life can define me…if I allow it to.
But no one and nothing in the world – not even my husband – can tell me who I am. My identity is much deeper than that. The truth of who I am cannot change, shift, or adapt. Nothing anyone says to me and nothing that happens to me and nothing that I choose for myself can shake the identity I have in Jesus. If anyone has the right to label me, it’s the One who made me.
So friend, can I lovingly correct you? Imagine I’m sitting with you over coffee as I look you in the eye and place my hand over yours and say this: You have no right to decide who you are. That label you’ve put on yourself? It’s the wrong one. Victim…orphan…widow? That’s not who you are. The label someone else has put on you without your permission? It doesn’t belong there. As hard as it may be to rip it off, you have to do it.
What label does God put on you?
For starters, He has claimed you as His child.
- How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)
- To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)
You are a special friend of Jesus.
- “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)
You are a conqueror, because whatever has been defeating you has already been defeated.
- What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?…In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. (Romans 8:31, 37)
That is who you are. That is who I am. That is our identity.
If I believed my husband when he gave me a new perspective on who I am, how much more should I be brought to tears when my Father – my Creator – reveals to me who He says I am?
Whatever label you’ve put on yourself, take it off. Whatever you’ve believed about who you are, cast it off. Those are not true, and they do not get to define you. Only He who knit you together for a purpose and a plan can label you, and that label cannot be removed.
Your Sister in Christ,