My Diagnosis is not my Personality

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my voice!
Psalm 130

A psychiatrist diagnosed me when I was 24 years old. Soon, it felt as if everything in my life revolved around that diagnosis. A simple walk turned into an exercise aimed at managing my condition. Even swimming at the recreation center was a recommendation from my psychiatrist. Every aspect, from my bedtime routine to the people I hung out with, circled back to this disorder that appeared to define my identity. I felt utterly lost.

I spent my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood attempting to define who I was. However, as soon as I received the diagnosis, it felt like my personality disappeared. Suddenly, I resembled every other young person attending the weekly early psychosis intervention support group I attended. Looking around the room, I saw individuals with whom I shared nothing in common, except for our psychiatric diagnoses. Coupled with the initial flat affect caused by psychiatric medication, this left me deeply anxious that my personality had been vanquished by my mental health condition.

Today, I’ve selected Psalm 130 because of its portrayal of immense distress. Reflecting on the first decade that followed my diagnosis, it was a period filled with lament. I cried out to God. I was lost. I felt less and less like myself. As I pleaded with family, psychiatrists, therapists, and medical professionals, I felt like my voice wasn’t being heard.

Learning how to manage a mood disorder took a great deal of work. Living well with bipolar disorder meant gathering numerous coping skills so I could rediscover myself. Slowly, I discovered that beneath my mental health condition, my personality remained intact. I have bipolar disorder, and I talk about it a lot, but it isn’t who I am, and it doesn’t govern every single thing I do.

If you are reading this and struggling with a mental health condition, know that there are individuals living well with psychiatric diagnoses who have received help in piecing themselves together. Based on my experience, the journey of recovery felt much like what the psalmist describes as “the depths.” I was initially unaware that God heard my cries when I felt I had lost myself. I was impatient. My recovery progressed slowly, and in hindsight, I realized that God was with me as I gradually attained sustained wellness. This ultimately allowed me to confidently declare, “I am still Seth.”

Loving protector, help us heal over time. Guide us to discover ourselves amongst the confusion.

Seth Perry

Seth Perry

ELCA Pastor -Devotional Blogger- Mental Health Recovery Educator-Living Well with Bipolar Type 1


2 Responses

  1. I remember your flat effect when we lived together watching dexter. You’ve gmcone a long way since then. Keep up the good work and for having the courage to tell your story. It can help others.

    1. Thank you Grant. For anyone dealing with flat affect… it will pass. It was a slog. It took some time. I am glad I’ve been able to find a way to be myself.

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A mental health condition can significantly impact your life. Upon receiving my diagnosis, I found myself questioning if bipolar disorder had eclipsed my personality. However, over time and through treatment, I gained hope.