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Defining Self

trail in the woods photoIf you could choose only one word to define yourself, what would it be? 

I would refuse to answer such a question. I am a complex human being with multiple facets of my being. However in my past, when I was in the midst of my most difficult time of my mental illness, that I would have a ready answer in my mouth. That would be “I’m crazy”. Please don’t do that disservice to yourself.My self realization came when my former wrestling coach saw me in a store and asked me how I was doing. My reply was “Haven’t you heard I went crazy?” He response was to say, “Yeah but how are you doing?” I thought about the question again and said “Okay”.

I am a husband, friend, Christian, brother, artist, writer, and yes a sufferer from bipolar disorder. You see there is more than the madness. My mental illness does not any longer define who I am.  Not only is such a view truthful it is also therapeutic.

I recall being hospitalized for a long time. The patients were as usual were a very accepting and diverse group. There was one woman who was ostracized. The reason was that she was constantly asking, “What medicines are you on?” It was something that she brought up every time that she talked to somebody. I explained this to her and she seemed to understand.

In my life experience with people with mental illness I have seen a large number of my kinfolk surrender in life. That is that they have given up. Their life consisted of relaxing and smoking cigarettes. They would live in group homes, attend day programs and drift in and out of psychiatric hospitals. Some of my friends have been in hospitals fifty times and upwards.

When I got a new psychiatrist he talked to the director of my day program. He said that he wanted me to return to college and graduate. In turn the director of the day program laughed and said “What in twenty years”. My psychiatrist had some disparaging words regarding the offender and commented that she was just out of college and didn’t know anything. My doctor’s opinion was vindicated, as in a couple of years I returned to college by taking a course at County College.

Still my experience is an eye opening examination of the mental health system. If the director of the mental health center had such low expectations for myself, I am quite confident that she had so for others. For myself I was fortunate to find somebody who believed in me and was willing to encourage me to inspire to greater heights and better things. But what about the others?

Being cynical I could come to the conclusion that the mental health center I attended didn’t want it’s clients to succeed. After all if everybody got better and moved on with life, than their services would not be so expansive. So in a way it is like the pharmaceutical company, they give you drugs which take care of your ill, but you never get healed. In that way you are constantly dependent on their drugs.

That is why it is so important to see beyond your mental illness. I know you can never forget it, and I know that it will always be a very important part of you.  Still life is complex and there is more to you.

Mental illness is a very harsh experience and at times extremely overwhelming. It is something that must be handled perhaps through both therapy and medication. Still keeping all of one’s focus on their chemical imbalance is a detriment. Don’t stare down constantly at every footstep look up from time to time to see the horizon.

We all share the common bond of humanity. You are no less or no more a human being because of a mental illness. There is so much more to you, discover what that is.

Please read about my journey in my memoirs More Than The Madness.

Photos by Infomastern,

Defining Self

John Kaniecki

John Kaniecki is a full-time caregiver for his wife Sylvia. He is a published writer and works with the Church of Christ. John has lived with bipolar for over thirty years and has been hospitalized nine times, three of which were committed. John has chronicled his life story in his memoirs "More Than The Madness". Also of note is John's book of poetry "Murmurings Of A Mad Man" which are poems written about being committed in Graystone Psychiatric Hospital. John believes in the power of words to change the world for the better. His website can be seen here. His books can be seen on Amazon. You can visit his personal blog "Turn A Page Or Two" here.

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APA Reference
Kaniecki, J. (2017). Defining Self. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2018, from


Last updated: 15 Nov 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Nov 2017
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