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Yes I know, it seems to be an unusual perhaps even an odd title for a post. But then is it so unusual? Is it really so odd?

Many, many years ago – in my youth (and yes I did I think actually have one) there was an elderly lady who lived down the road from me. I knew not her name, nor her occupation, her circumstances of life, her nature or personality or indeed anything about her other than the fact that she lived on her own, down the road from me, never seemed to have visitors and always, whether rain or shine, went out in the same shiny blue overcoat. A shiny blue overcoat which became (to all intents and purposes) to me at least (and I am sure to others) her identity.

Sad isn’t it? Had I been much older I would no doubt have struck up a conversation or three with her and perhaps gotten to know her better, befriended her even. But young people (even in those days) can often be quite thoughtless. What was it that Oscar Wilde pointed out? “Youth is wasted on the young?”

But ask yourself this, if you will… “Am I the only one who mistakenly has assigned an identity to someone or something?” Let’s go a little further perhaps… Ask yourself this,”Have you, do you ever mistakenly assign an identity to someone or something?”

Please don’t get me wrong here. I am, of course, not talking about thinking that you knew someone when actually you had never met them and were mistakenly thinking they were someone else.

What I am talking about is how we see people with illnesses, disabilities, mental health difficulties. Indeed I am also talking about how we interact with them.

See here is the deal, when folk think of me I would very much like them to think of me for who I am, who I really am – my nature and character, my loves, my hopes, my ambitions, my fears, my abilities and yes even my inabilities.

Do I mind that folk know of my mental health issues? No not really, I am long since passed trying to hide it and long since passed worrying about what folk may or may not think of me in that regard. But I am very much concerned that the mental health issues that I or anyone else may have doesn’t become my or their identity.

You see when I get up in the morning, I pray a little and then I go to my bathroom and I wash and dry myself before then going to my wardrobe and/or chest of drawers, selecting the clothes that I am going to wear (unless I have pre-selected them the night before which I often do) and then I get dressed.

Now whilst I cannot guarantee that I follow this routine each and every morning without fail, (sometimes I get up late, sometimes I can’t really get up at all, and sometimes I may forget to pray) what I can guarantee is that when selecting the what I am going to wear that day I never ever deliberately select the mental health that I am going to experience that day.

The reason for this is quite simple- my mental health is not an overcoat! Neither is it a shirt, a jacket, a sweater, socks, shoes, trousers/pants or underwear for that matter.

Do I accept that I have some (often times varying) control over how it may affect me and thus how it may affect others who know me? Yes of course I do. But I can assure you that I have little to no control over whether or not it is with me each day or indeed to what degree or indeed what effect it will or won’t have on either me or on my relationships. And I would venture to suggest that the same is true for most folk experiencing mental health and other medical issues.

So here is my challenge to you the reader…

Consider those folk you know who do suffer mental or physical health issues. And let there be no mistake here, when I ask you to consider those folk who you know who suffer from some mental or physical health issues, I also want to you to include yourself if appropriate and to ask these questions in respect of yourself also.

Ask yourself how you really see them?
Ask yourself how you really treat them?
Do you truly feel you see and treat them fairly.
Do you believe, understand and/or accept that their (or if applicable your) mental or physical health issues and the subsequent effects are in the main not something they (or you) have chosen but something involuntarily experienced?

In short, “Is your relationship with that person truly with that person or indeed is it with the illness? Or in other words, Is it perhaps with – An illness that was mistaken for an overcoat?

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