“Mental ‘Illness'” 09.01.23

My husband owned and managed an art gallery for many years. When my books were published, they were available in the shop.

“Remember Who You Are: Defining Yourself Despite Your Mental Illness”

Some people looked on with curiosity; others bought copies; many had ideas on how to publicize my books on a grander scale. A few customers made derogatory jokes to one another. “We should buy this for your mother,” a woman whispered to her husband, suppressing a laugh.

One customer surprised me.

I left the gallery to retrieve lunch one day, as per usual. Upon my return, my husband recounted a conversation he’d had with a woman in my absence. She was bothered by the title of my book, voicing her opinion that it may be insulting and should have been expressed in a different light. At the time I was offended and confused, but I was so greatly intrigued that I think of that encounter often, to this day. I have considered many possibilities for her reaction and settled on this explanation: Illness suggests frailty and weakness; something is wrong. In truth, this is not a communicable disease, but an invisible life-long struggle. This is neither frailty or weakness, but fortitude.

A “psychiatric disorder” is another way to phrase “mental illness.” This title leads society to rip these words apart and see only “psycho,” which is a whole different ball game. I cannot be certain, but I think “Remember Who You Are: Defining Yourself Despite Your Psychiatric Disorder” just doesn’t roll off the tongue so smoothly and could turn many away, judging a book by its cover. Separating “disorder” implies a constant state of chaos. “Mental” is often interchangeable with “crazy.” These adjectives are cast about casually, without thought of their weight.

The key inappropriate word in this title is “despite.” Remembering who you are includes your mental illness. You are not defined by your disorder, but it is a piece of your puzzle.

Though I will continue to wonder how this stranger would title my book, I think we can all agree that the point here is to embrace every part of yourself as you…

“Remember Who You Are.”