The I Am ___ Project: Your Right To Define Yourself
Start writing a post

For my honor's thesis my freshman year of college, I did a project very near and dear to my heart. In high school, I worked with children with autism religiously. Ironically, my friendship with these students began by a mistake. There was a class at my school called Unified Sports. In this class, students without autism worked with students with autism to help them engage in physical activity and develop social skills. Initially, I didn't want to be a part of the class.

I had never worked with kids with autism before… and frankly, I was scared I was going to mess up and hurt one of their feelings. But it only took one class period for me to realize that this class was going to be a new essential part of my life. That was my freshman year of high school, and after that first day of class, I worked with my kids every day until the day I graduated,

Needless to say, when you spend that much time with someone, you get attached. These kids are wonderful, in my opinion, they are actually usually better than people without autism. They knew how to love better than anyone I had ever met. There was no judgment, there were no cliques. They had big personalities and even bigger hearts. What they lacked in the thing's society values so much, they made up for with humanity that is so rare nowadays. So that's why it hurt so bad to see them defined by one "ailment".

One of the girls in the class was mute and non-responsive to social interaction. However, when you asked any kid in the class who their best friend was, they would say. her. She had something about her that just made the other kids feel. understood. She didn't talk, but she connected with them in a way that no one else could.

One day, she came in with a bracelet that said, "I AM AUTISTIC". I was heartbroken. This wonderful girl, who had so many amazing qualities, was defined by one word that barely played any part in her presence in the world. She was autistic… but she was also loving, funny, exuberant, dedicated… she was so much more than her mental illness.

But aren't we all? Her bracelet got me thinking, people who have mental illnesses often lose the chance to define themselves. They are trapped in stereotypes formed by others and self-hate formed by themselves. It's not fair.

I began the "I AM _____" project. The idea behind my project was this: If you could choose one word that the world would see you for, what would it be? I reached out to my community and asked for people with mental illnesses to step forward and tell their story. I asked what their illness was, how it affected their lives, what three words they felt that their illness defined them as, and what three words they hoped to be defined as.

The number of people who responded was shocking. I had sorority girls, adults, young children and everything in between. People who had permanently messed up their bodies or lost their jobs because they couldn't break past that mental barrier. People who were so good and beautiful…but couldn't see a bit of it. I saw these astounding people full of so much disappointment in themselves…. And it sucked. I just didn't understand how the people I found so wonderful couldn't see the same in themselves.

I shared their stories (with their permission). I compiled a book of their answers and a short documentary. When I presented my project, I wanted to leave the audience with one thought- you aren't your mental illness. You have bipolar disorder, you aren't bipolar. You have depression, you aren't depressed. You have autism, you aren't autistic. In each one of us, there is so much more than one word can possibly summarize.

Please, never reduce yourself or anyone else to one word. Never let one thing about you completely change who you view yourself to be. You are a combination of every part of yourself, every flaw and every gift. Don't be ashamed of any part of yourself. Without autism, the girl who started my project would never have made the impact she did on my kids. Every part of you is there for some purpose. It is up to you to find that purpose, just like it is up to you to choose your own "I AM ____".

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Health and Wellness

Exposing Kids To Nature Is The Best Way To Get Their Creative Juices Flowing

Constantly introducing young children to the magical works of nature will further increase the willingness to engage in playful activities as well as broaden their interactions with their peers


Whenever you are feeling low and anxious, just simply GO OUTSIDE and embrace nature! According to a new research study published in Frontiers in Psychology, being connected to nature and physically touching animals and flowers enable children to be happier and altruistic in nature. Not only does nature exert a bountiful force on adults, but it also serves as a therapeutic antidote to children, especially during their developmental years.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 Simple Ways To Give Yourself Grace, Especially When Life Gets Hard

Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we are becoming.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

If there's one thing I'm absolutely terrible at, it's giving myself grace. I'm easily my own worst critic in almost everything that I do. I'm a raging perfectionist, and I have unrealistic expectations for myself at times. I can remember simple errors I made years ago, and I still hold on to them. The biggest thing I'm trying to work on is giving myself grace. I've realized that when I don't give myself grace, I miss out on being human. Even more so, I've realized that in order to give grace to others, I need to learn how to give grace to myself, too. So often, we let perfection dominate our lives without even realizing it. I've decided to change that in my own life, and I hope you'll consider doing that, too. Grace begins with a simple awareness of who we are and who we're becoming. As you read through these five affirmations and ways to give yourself grace, I hope you'll take them in. Read them. Write them down. Think about them. Most of all, I hope you'll use them to encourage yourself and realize that you are never alone and you always have the power to change your story.

Keep Reading... Show less

Breaking Down The Beginning, Middle, And End of Netflix's Newest 'To All The Boys' Movie

Noah Centineo and Lana Condor are back with the third and final installment of the "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" series


Were all teenagers and twenty-somethings bingeing the latest "To All The Boys: Always and Forever" last night with all of their friends on their basement TV? Nope? Just me? Oh, how I doubt that.

I have been excited for this movie ever since I saw the NYC skyline in the trailer that was released earlier this year. I'm a sucker for any movie or TV show that takes place in the Big Apple.

Keep Reading... Show less

4 Ways To Own Your Story, Because Every Bit Of It Is Worth Celebrating

I hope that you don't let your current chapter stop you from pursuing the rest of your story.

Photo by Manny Moreno on Unsplash

Every single one of us has a story.

I don't say that to be cliché. I don't say that to give you a false sense of encouragement. I say that to be honest. I say that to be real.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

How Young Feminists Can Understand And Subvert The Internalized Male Gaze

Women's self-commodification, applied through oppression and permission, is an elusive yet sexist characteristic of a laissez-faire society, where women solely exist to be consumed. (P.S. justice for Megan Fox)

Paramount Pictures

Within various theories of social science and visual media, academics present the male gaze as a nebulous idea during their headache-inducing meta-discussions. However, the internalized male gaze is a reality, which is present to most people who identify as women. As we mature, we experience realizations of the perpetual male gaze.

Keep Reading... Show less

It's Important To Remind Yourself To Be Open-Minded And Embrace All Life Has To Offer

Why should you be open-minded when it is so easy to be close-minded?


Open-mindedness. It is something we all need a reminder of some days. Whether it's in regards to politics, religion, everyday life, or rarities in life, it is crucial to be open-minded. I want to encourage everyone to look at something with an unbiased and unfazed point of view. I oftentimes struggle with this myself.

Keep Reading... Show less

14 Last Minute Valentine's Day Gifts Your S.O. Will Love

If they love you, they're not going to care if you didn't get them some expensive diamond necklace or Rolex watch; they just want you.


Let me preface this by saying I am not a bad girlfriend.

I am simply a forgetful one.

Keep Reading... Show less
Student Life

10 Helpful Tips For College Students Taking Online Courses This Semester

Here are several ways to easily pass an online course.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels

With spring semester starting, many college students are looking to take courses for the semester. With the pandemic still ongoing, many students are likely looking for the option to take online courses.

Online courses at one time may have seemed like a last minute option for many students, but with the pandemic, they have become more necessary. Online courses can be very different from taking an on-campus course. You may be wondering what the best way to successfully complete an online course is. So, here are 10 helpful tips for any student who is planning on taking online courses this semester!

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments