Lisa’s Identity Clause

That’s what I’m calling it: “Lisa’s Identity Clause”.

It comes about from a collection of blog posts I’ve read on Lisa Graas’ blog looking at the issue of identity, and more specifically, identity as a Christian suffering from mental health issues.

I have been meaning to blog about this before now, but am prompted to do so now following a brief exchange with Lisa on Twitter over an article on BeliefNet today.

The crux of “Lisa’s Identity Clause” is that we are not our disorder. For example, folk will say: “I am Bipolar”, but is this strictly true? Is this not to frame our entire identity on one facet. OK, this particular facet may permeate many areas of our lives, but it is not the entirety of who we are, or what makes us, us.

I understand the compulsion to embrace a psychiatric diagnosis and can certainly see how this may empower a person to more fully understand their own modes of behaviour and such. But I think it is an error to define ourselves entirely by this. There is no equivalent in the physical disease world; I mean, folk don’t go around saying “I am diabetes”.

I think that in our modern world identity issues are more prevalent than we might imagine, and in this regard it is no coincidence that Scripture urges us to take our identity from Christ. Our own identities may shift on uncertain sands, but His identity is fixed.

I think we as Christians have to be wary of too fondly embracing labels in order to define ourselves.

I’ll leave off my thoughts at this point and hand over to Lisa who articulates this far more eloquently and succinctly than I could.

I’ll finish with one of my favourite phrases which is: We suffer that we may comfort those that suffer.

By the way, it’s the Feast of St. Dymphna today, the Patron of those suffering nervous and mental afflictions!

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14 Responses to “Lisa’s Identity Clause”

  1. GMRUNNER Says:

    While there is an important distinction I would suspect when someone says, “I am bipolar” what he or she is truly saying is “I have bipolar” which sounds odd.

    The more significant point is if the person with bipolar so identifies with the illness that it consumes their identity and being. What makes mental illness so insidious is that it permeates so many aspects of the sufferer’s personal and social interactions to the extent that some can no longer function normally or in an acceptable manner.

    It is easier to “hide” cancer or diabetes. Less so being slurring drunk or schizophrenic when in one case the person twirled around the room we were in because he believed there was a tornado present.

  2. Ben Trovato Says:

    Where does ‘I am gay’ fit with this analysis?…

  3. GMRUNNER Says:


    I imagine the same as “I am heterosexual.” To say one is gay or straight does not and should not express the totally of the person nor does it define one’s soul or essential being.

    As Jesus notes, in heaven there will be neither male nor female but pure spirits like the angels. Sexuality is an earthly condition or state of being for the purpose of procreation.

  4. Goy Says:

    Concessionary mental illness!

    To be, or not to be – that is the question:
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them

  5. Sue Says:

    I agree with GMRUNNER. Nothing wrong with saying “I am gay” or “I am blonde” or “I am shy”. The problem comes if you think that sums you up completely!

  6. Sue Says:

    “I am diabetes” would be daft because “diabetes” is a noun! “I am diabetic” is something I’ve heard people say frequently. (PS: It really doesn’t mean they think they are a disease!) I suppose the “correct” term should be “I am bipolic” if you want to truly indicate it is an adjective.

  7. Pam B. Says:

    The following are 2 scriptures from the Bible (Proverbs 18:20-21), but from three different translations. Hopefully the different translations will help to better understand the scriptures, because the King James Version is a difficult translation. These verses speak of THE POWER OF WORDS, so it is important how we speak of ourselves and others:

    PROVERBS 18:20-21 –
    20 Make your words good—
    you will be glad you did.
    21 Words can bring death or life!
    Talk too much, and you will eat
    everything you say.

    PROVERBS 18:20-21 –
    20 A man’s [moral] self shall be filled with the fruit of his mouth; and with the consequence of his words he must be satisfied [whether good or evil].
    21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it [for death or life].

    PROVERBS 18:20-21 –
    20 A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled.
    21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

  8. Caral Says:

    “I am diabetes” would be daft because “diabetes” is a noun! “I am diabetic” is something I’ve heard people say frequently. (PS: It really doesn’t mean they think they are a disease!”

    I think that is the point Sue, when it is unseen physical conditions people are not labelled, nor define themselves by it. Unlike MH sufferers many do in fact define themselves by their diagnosis.

    Of course with all the related stigma in society, due to lack of education about MH, one can almost taste the classic ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ which negatively reinforces the self labelling.

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  10. Lisa Graas Says:

    Sue writes: “It really doesn’t mean they think they are a disease!”

    Actually, you’d probably be surprised at their ability to be at peace with it if they got more in the habit of not only saying “I have diabetes” but understanding why. The really important “why” is that you identify with Jesus and the person God made you to be, not with any disorder. I should think that it would at least cut down on one’s temptation to whine about his/her illness. At best, it might help on the really important part: that we offer our sufferings in union with Christ on the Cross so that they might be redemptive.

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  12. Lisa Graas Says:

    Pam’s Bible quotes refer to the speech of healthy people. As we all know, I hope, people with Bipolar Disorder don’t always have control over their speech.

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