Comfort in Diagnosis

IMG_0003.PNGHello Friends!  First of all, I hate April fool’s day. I think it is the worst “holiday.” I don’t like being deliberately tricked by THE WHOLE WORLD. It feels terrible. I refuse to take part. But if it floats your boat, you have fun with that. I’ll be over here telling the truth about stuff. 

I am so happy you are here. The day to day struggle with mental illness is serious, and we all need some company to deal with the stress. Some days I feel hopeless, as if nothing has ever gone right and it never will. But other days I have hope, and I know that if I just keep working, I can make it through. We all go through shit: trauma, heartbreak, or maybe something as simple as chemical depression. Each has its own battles. I know I am not alone in experiencing depression that seems to have no basis in reality, and that can be more difficult, in some ways, than when I have something specific to make me upset.

When I was a teenager I was furious with myself because I couldn’t explain why I was depressed. I had a good home life, I wanted for nothing, I had never been abused or attacked, etc. In short, I lacked any visible reason to be depressed and yet there I was. I played this game where I could turn anything in the world into my fault through a logical chain. I was looking for something to blame, anything. How I could I feel so badly when there was no obvious reason to feel that way?

I think this is why I cling to diagnoses. They -explain- the things that I never could. I have mood episodes because I have Bipolar II, Borderline Personality, and PMDD. With these road maps comes comfort because I can say, phew, I may be a little broken but it is not inexplicable. When I developed my serious depressions after my miscarriages, that made sense to me. I didn’t like it of course, so much that I tried to kill myself to get out of it all, but at least I had something I could point to.

My therapist occasionally brings up the fact that I really like diagnoses. She cautions me not to rely on them, but I don’t see the harm in it if it makes me feel better. I think she doesn’t want me to assume that I am a cookie cutter Dx, but I don’t. I know that I am my own special blend of crazy (artisanal, organic, spicy), that I should treat symptoms and not a “disorder.” “Diagnoses are just for insurance companies.” “The DSM-V is just made of social constructions.” Ok maybe, but I think having a diagnosis can be incredibly comforting. Most people I know feel some modicum of relief when they finally have the proper Dx, whether it be a physical disease or a brain disorder. In fact, I prefer to think of “mental illness” as “brain disorders” because though we think that “mood” is some ephemeral thing detached from our physicality, it is intrinsically linked to the firing of our neurons, the function of our cortices, the involvement of our limbic system. We are machines and when something is “off” in the machine, in manifests itself in different ways. So perhaps an emotional event occurred when you were younger to cause trauma: these changes your brain. Being depressed changes your physiology. These are physical disorders than manifest in emotional ways. But we are one with our neurons and our neurons are our moods.

My diagnoses don’t give me my identity, they give me a ladder to climb towards sanity. They let me know that I’m not just crazy, like the “mad” people of yesteryear. My madness has names, symptoms, causes. We don’t know nearly enough about the brain to know what really causes all of these disorders but we’re getting closer. And I think, as I said, that it is helpful for those of us with emotional brain disorders to think of it that way so that we don’t feel lost. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed yet but you feel like something is wrong, take comfort in the fact that you’re almost definitely not imagining things (even disorders like hypochondria have a basis in the brain because they must). If you’re questioning what’s up, go see a professional. I know this can be very difficult to do for many reasons, not in the least because of finances, especially in the U.S. since our insurance system is so fucked up, and in countries where brain disorders are still incredibly taboo. There are online resources these days that can be affordable and accessible: online therapists are there to talk 24/7.

Many Drs. are hesitant to give their patients mental health diagnoses, and to this I say, pshaw. Even if you don’t think it’s a perfect fit, let them have it! I know I felt better once I figured things out. It was revelatory. We must find comfort where we can.

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2 thoughts on “Comfort in Diagnosis”

  1. I can really relate to the part about trying to find something to pin the depression to. I started getting depressed despite there being no real reason to be, and it has made me feel so invalid.

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