Bipolar and Anxiety Are Not My Identity

October 22, 2014 Gabe Howard

My name is Gabe Howard and I have bipolar and anxiety disorders. As a public speaker and writer using my lived experience with mental illness, I say that sentence often. Some version of that is on my business card and website and it is how I start most of my speeches. But, is that my identity? Is a set of diagnoses really who I am?

I talk about living with mental illness more than I talk about my wife, family, and hockey combined. Realistically, that is reasonable. I am not a “Gabe’s wife, family, and hockey writer and speaker;” I am a mental illness writer and speaker. But, in a world where people are narrowly defined, I have gone from who I really am to “the mentally ill” guy.

Living with Bipolar and Anxiety Disorders


I am a person with bipolar and anxiety disorders. But is that my identity? Is a set of diagnoses really who I am? Is my identity tied to bipolar and anxiety?Ignoring my chosen career for a moment, living with bipolar and anxiety disorder takes a lot of time. There are symptoms, medications, and therapy to manage. I need to be aware of my moods and be able to explain to those closest to me that I may need help.

When I am in crisis, I need to be able to work through it and deal with not only the immediate issues, but any fallout that may come later – making amends to someone, as an example. Figuring out what “went wrong” or even just accepting the loss of time all factors into the lifestyle of a person living with mental illness.

Managing Bipolar and Anxiety Changes a Person

Living with a chronic illness – any chronic illness – has to become part of a person’s identity. Managing bipolar and anxiety changes a person. The setbacks and successes that come from living with these disorders impact our lived experience. These experiences shape our lives and personalities.

Being known as a person living with mental illness isn’t what bothers me, or other people I talk to, the most. What bothers us is that this is often all we are known for. The truth is, I can be a man living with bipolar and anxiety disorders and a husband, family man, and hockey fan.

All too often, mental illness becomes the sole identity of a person instead of a piece of their overall make-up. While I am certainly a person living with mental illness, that doesn't exclusively define me. Or anyone.

You can find Gabe on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and his website.

APA Reference
Howard, G. (2014, October 22). Bipolar and Anxiety Are Not My Identity, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Gabe Howard

Moses Masika
June, 22 2016 at 6:46 am

One of the ways you overcome anxiety disorders is through sharing your experiences with friends!

April, 10 2015 at 7:56 am

Great article! Have you ever found anyone with a mental illness, who has been put down so much from some others that they become so doubtful about their abilities? I never used to doubt myself so much; but I had a horrible experience with the VA healthcare system that for the past couple of years I have been seen by a private Psychologist and Psychiatrist. Also, why do some Psychologist just talk with a person and don't really have them interact with activities to help them overcome obstacles?
I am going to see a new counselor for grief since my father passed away on January 19 of this year (2015); but have mixed feelings about all of it. I feel love and happiness in the inside; but when I sense or see others' scowls it triggers a response in me that there is something wrong with me.
Like the idea that some celebrities are speaking out on behalf of mental illnesses, but I still feel that others are stigmatizing me for some odd reason. Used to have friends and somewhat of a "normal" life; but it is quite lonely when a person has so much agape love for others, but feel that they are not "allowed" to express themselves because others may decide to take it the wrong way.

Serena I.
November, 3 2014 at 9:29 am

I do have a hard time separating myself from my bipolar/anxiety diagnosis. I am a wife, a mother and a nurse. I am currently not working outside the home due to my illness. It makes me feel like I have lost part of my identity not working. But what I do is take each day just one day at a time and one step at a time. That is how I am surviving.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 11 2018 at 9:26 pm

Serena... I am also a wife, mother of 4, and RN living with BP. I feel like I am constantly having the fight with my husband that bipolar is not my identity and it is only a part of me. That I can be mad without it being related to a bipolar “flare up” or whatever he wants to call it. I can be sad without it being depression. I can be pissed off, happy, irritable etc just like any other human being and it’s not all strictly a bipolar response. It is very frustrating for me and makes me feel so beyond isolated. :( I am currently working full time and it is extremely difficult. It seems like maybe I need more accommodations because the stress of working and raising four little kids is a lot over stimulating for me.. but I guess I feel like I have no choice so I just keep doing what I can to survive. =\

Paul Inglis
November, 1 2014 at 9:08 pm

Exactly!!!!! You are NOT a label! Good on you!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
November, 3 2014 at 11:28 am

None of us are. :) Thank you for reading and commenting! :) Gabe

Mary Coulter
October, 29 2014 at 2:54 am

I have bipolar and I talk about it with people as much as I can because I am the type of person who proactively tries to take care of it. But I have family that does not. I try to take away the stigma of it and show people that normal people have it. People always share with me their problems because they feel safe to tell me. In the back of my head though, I always think, people may see me as fragile and feel sorry for me but want to keep their distance. I feel like I have to be as passive as possible so people don't worry about me freaking out. I also talk about it to counteract the widespread thinking that it is a myth. Many people think there is no mental illness and I am just crazy. I guess they believe in crazy but mentally ill is out of the question.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Gabe Howard
October, 29 2014 at 10:23 am

Thank you, Mary! I agree with you! That is my plan, too! We will keep working together to change the way people see mental illness! Thank you for reading and commenting. ~Gabe

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