When you are experiencing ‘symptoms’ of a mental health illness, it’s a scary thing; you don’t know what’s happening and you can’t explain it to other people. For example, when I was struggling with depression, I had no idea what was going on. I knew something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on what that was. I felt super anxious, I couldn’t eat or sleep properly, I was having panic attacks and I just felt like an alien version of myself.
When my mum encouraged me to go to the doctors and they diagnosed me with depression, I cried tears of relief. I couldn’t believe that what was happening to me had a name for it and that it was actually recognised as something that could be treated. Now I had a label, I could explain my behaviour to other people but also to myself. I have always seen the benefit of having a diagnosis and a label that explains why I am the way I am but recently I have started to question: is this always a positive thing?
Let me explain what I mean by this and remember, I am talking here from my own point of view; I know everybody is different and some people will vastly disagree with what I’m about to write. However, this post may actually make sense to some of you and perhaps challenge the way in which you have always seen your diagnosis. But first, let’s look at both sides of my argument.
Why I think having a diagnosis is a positive thing:
1. It has made me feel more normal.
Like I discussed earlier in this post, when I was experiencing depression and had no idea what it was, to have a label for that did normalise what I was going through. It also made me more open to medication because I could think about it in the same way as a physical illness: it needed treating to go away.
2. I am more aware of how I’m feeling.
Having a diagnosis makes me more aware of my mental health; I tune in more to my thoughts and bodily sensations. I feel that I can recognise when things are spiralling faster than I could before.
3. I can explain to both myself and others why I am the way I am.
If I am not feeling particularly great one day, I can tell someone that it is because of my OCD. I have a name for it and one that I can share with other people. If people are noticing ‘quirks’ about me and I can sense that, I know that I have a reason for my behaviour.
4. I have found other people like me.
Knowing that I have OCD has allowed me to search across social media, the blogging world and books for people that are like me. And bloody hell there’s a lot of us! This is the biggest comfort of all; this label can connect us to other members of the team that we can reach out to and talk openly about our experiences. This has helped me most of all.
However, on the flip side…
Why I think having a diagnosis is a bad thing:
1. It has made me feel like I’m not normal.
I know this is a complete contradiction of my first positive point but both are completely true. Although I have been able to normalise things for myself in terms of having a name for my experiences, I also feel that a diagnosis has made me feel an irregular, alien part of society. My behaviour isn’t what is classed as ‘normal’ and so needs a name branded to it. Which leads me onto my next point…
2. The mentally well vs. the mentally unwell.
I feel that a diagnosis splits people into two categories: the mentally well and the mentally unwell. It suggests that we either fit into one or the other. But is that even true? Aren’t we all just on a continuum of mental health? It’s something we all have. Some days we might wake up and feel terrible and can’t put our finger on why. Maybe someone experiences a traumatic life event and this causes depression, something of which they’ve never had before. Does this need a label or is it just a normal part of life? Isn’t it possible that everyone can experience poor mental health at some point in their lives? It’s exactly the same as not always being physically well.
3. Blaming my diagnosis.
Although I feel that explaining my behaviour to both myself and other people by blaming OCD is a good thing to aid understanding, I also feel it can be a negative thing. For me, I quite often attack my OCD and blame my behaviour on it. I talk about it as this diseased part of myself that makes me behave in ways I don’t necessarily like. For a big part of my life I have hated this part of myself and completely separated it from who I am. But is this any way to live with a mental health diagnosis?
4. The idea that our only option is to get better.
When we have poor mental health, the very thing we want to achieve is recovery. We want to be better and work so hard for this, something I have always been striving for. But does our mental health illness not make us part of who we are? If I didn’t have OCD, perhaps I wouldn’t be the empathetic individual I am. Maybe I never would have decided to pursue counselling as a career. I definitely wouldn’t be running a blog talking about my mental health! Sure, I am probably more anxious than the ‘normal’ person but don’t we need this mix of people in the world?
My OCD IS part of me; it makes me who I am and I don’t want to hate that anymore. Having a diagnosis has been a positive thing in a lot of ways for me but it has also made me despise this part of myself for so many years. I propose instead that we listen to our mental health illness, we try to understand it, accept it and embrace that it is part of our identity.
And that my friends, is not something to be ashamed of; being ourselves is something to be incredibly proud of.