“What? You don’t think mental illness exists? How dare you! Don’t you have any understanding of how much people suffer?”
I get this kind of feedback regularly. There is a basic flaw in logic here, which I often have trouble explaining to people. I, too, suffered horribly. I had a lot of trouble getting MH professionals to take me seriously, especially during the first few years of shrinkage. I have concluded that not only did they theynot listen well, but they were unable to assign my problems to a specific “illness.” For this reason, I was told that my complaints were trivial and my case was handled with lowest priority.
While, agreeably, calling whatever ails you an “illness” will get you medical insurance coverage for appointments, and it’s necessary for coverage, you are otherwise doing yourself a disservice by labeling your suffering according to someone else’s category. We are human. We aren’t categories.
Many feel validated upon receiving a diagnosis. “At least, since it has a name, I am not alone in my struggle. Maybe since others suffer as I do, there are answers.”
Know that assigning a name to your suffering can cause it to take on a life of its own. If you are to name it, why not give it some original name of your own choosing that more accurately describes your experience? Be aware that the assigning of a name puts limits on what is unique to you. These “illness” names have industry standards, and box you into a category.
Thomas Szasz pointed out that once a person receives a diagnosis, they “become” that diagnosis more. When I went into MH “care” back in the early 1980’s, I met many traditional shrinks who strongly agreed with Szasz on this point. In my experience years ago, most patients were unaware of their diagnoses and didn’t care. Now, you meet someone, and they’ll tell you, “I have PTSD, DID, BPD, bipolar….” The list can go on insanely long. I look back now, after many years, and realize that diagnosis alone destroyed these patients’ lives. Diagnosis and its “treatment” demands that patients become hyperaware of their symptoms, chart and graph them, dissect them, analyze them, number then from one to ten, and believe wholeheartedly that this is the New Life and they’d better accept it.
For many of us, we heard, “You will be in and out of hospitals for the rest of your life. There’s no cure. You can only be managed. And you must remain in treatment indefinitely.” None of us had any clue just how damaging this statement was.
If you believe this, then I ask you one thing, “What if it were not true that it’s forever? Since when can anyone make this determination?” I don’t know any real psychics out there who can so reliably predict the future. Nor have I ever heard that psychiatric training will increase one’s ability to fortune-tell. Why? there’s no actual physical evidence of “disease.” There may or may not be physical consequences (such as scars on one’s arms) but these aren’t a disease. An oncologist might tell a patient he or she doesn’t have much chance of surviving a serious cancer. This is because the tumors are often visible and the rate of growth is measurable. No one can predict how terrible your depression will be in a year or five years or ten years. Depression is like physical pain, not one person can see it or feel it except the sufferer.
I have known people who were suffering unbearably but were told they couldn’t possibly be suffering since it didn’t fit their diagnosis. Has that ever happened to you? Or, upon reporting an experience, has your shrink then reframed that experience in terms of your assumed diagnosis?
Look at your life and define it on your terms, not theirs. Let me tell you how I figured out I am by all means not “bipolar” as was claimed for many years.
I reported ups and downs.
I reported feeling depressed.
By all means, these were things that in the simplistic minds of these shrinks, they could grasp. They decided I had bipolar based on the above two statements (and presentation thereof) and that alone. However, they trivialized my other statement and refused to listen: “My biggest problem is with my eating.”
Indeed, my life went like this for years, a life they assumed was bipolar, but wasn’t. Since they ignored my binge eating problem, or downplayed it, or flat out had no understanding nor grasped the severity of it, they had no clue that this uncontrolled habit, alternating with restricting my food intake, were running my life all those years.
If I couldn’t get the binge eating to stop, I became despondent, slowed down, lacked energy, and was often too physically ill to leave my bed. At its worst, I’d have feelings of wanting to end my life. Looks like depression, eh? If I could get the binge eating to stop, I felt terrific. Using the word “terrific” in a sentence invariably got me the response from shrinks that I must by hypomanic. I wasn’t. If I ate too little, I’d get spaced out and giddy. That’s how I ended up labeled bipolar.
As soon as they told me I was bipolar, I was told to rate my moods on a scale of one to ten. I was told I had to manage symptoms. This instilled in me that I had this “disease” and would require “treatment” for the rest of my life.
Sure, people manage their problems, and would want to, but mine weren’t “mood disorder.” There was no disorder to manage, and my so-called symptoms were caused all along by the underlying problem the shrinks refused to acknowledge.
This wasn’t the only way my real condition was ignored. After ECT in 1996, I suffered from damages caused by these shock treatments. Instead of acknowledging that the ECT was the cause, I was given a new diagnosis to explain the cognitive confusion I experienced, so the real cause, medical malpractice, would be forgotten. I never had a personality disorder. Sadly, I believed this diagnosis for a few years and played that role, too, until a therapist dropped it from my record. This was not even my request. She told me later that she didn’t see that I was BPD at all, and didn’t understand why it was on there, nor did anyone else. I no longer had those ECT-related problems that they claimed were “dissociation,” have not had this since nor have I had to deal with that false diagnosis.
I did experience cognitive problems in 2011, however, these were caused by a drug and ended when I stopped that drug. The drug was called Trileptal. If you go to forums, you will read about “Trileptal fog” and “swaying” on one’s feet, which are common side effects. Many at the forums I peeked at reported similar experiences to mine, such as mental confusion, lack of alertness, and instability on one’s feet. This was when I realized, after stopping Trileptal and waking up, that this drug had been the cause all along.
What is it about turning people into basket cases that causes society to turn its back? I lost my two best friends right after I was put on Trileptal. Did they consider me a “lost cause”? “Damaged forever”? “Gone downhill”? I suppose I’ll never know. I was super confused but in the back of my mind, something told me it was all temporary. I begged others to have faith in me, but sadly, most didn’t. I could barely put a sentence together during those months. It was at that point that my abusive therapist, unaware of what the real cause was, took steps to put me into the state hospital. Everyone around me, and myself included, wanted to put a disease name to what I was going through, when truth was, it wasn’t a disease, it was a drug reaction!
I feel saddened that the consequences were so dire that I feared loss of my freedom, loss of my home, and separation from my dog, permanently. I feel saddened that a drug reaction was basis for their determining that I “couldn’t manage” when all I needed was to stop the drug. They used the confusion I experienced as more fuel for their fire. You can see why years in the MH system led to diagnosis disaster for me, simply because my original complaint went ignored too long.
What about you? I know some people tell me they “fit” their diagnoses to a T. I’m okay with that, but why call it some predetermined label? If you do, you raise the chances of permanence or long-term problems that might otherwise last only a short time, and even dissipate on their own. Sadly, many who embrace these labels remain incapacitated to some extent for life. Those that reject the label and still address their problems (without addressing them as “illness”) tend to fare well.
I don’t encourage ignoring a serious problem. I agree that problems tend not to go away unless you deal with them. Handling a serious problem may involve getting traditional “help” or something else. Dealing with whatever ails you, unique to you, without categorizing your experience will undoubtedly be more productive than trying to fit yourself into a psych diagnosis. In my opinion the most important and significant thing is getting others to take you seriously, no matter where you are in life. You don’t need to call yourself “sick” to do that. This was one of the most incredible lessons I ever learned.