You Are Not Your Diagnosis, and Your Diagnosis is Not You
By: Artishia Dasher, Ph.D.
Bipolar! Schizophrenic! Depressed!
You went to see a therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, professional counselor, etc., and they informed you that you have a mental health diagnosis. Now what! What do you do? Do you do anything at all? It is essential first to recognize that this is not your fault. You did not do anything wrong. Mental illness is prevalent in one of every five individuals in the United States. This means it is more common than you know. Embrace your health! (Notice I did not say mental health).
Diagnoses such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Depression are diagnoses professionals, and mental health enthusiasts have read about, studied, and understand. In understanding mental health, one must educate themselves on the diagnosis and know that they may not exhibit all criteria of that diagnosis. You may go back and forth after reading “clinical criteria” for a diagnosis and say, “I don’t do that,” “I don’t act that way,” …. again not realizing that symptoms manifest differently in everyone. Do not compare yourself to others!
Although these mental diagnoses/labels can cause adverse outcomes and biases in society, receiving a diagnosis may help you understand why you have not been as interested in certain activities as of late. It may help you understand why you have been irritable or moody as well. I once read, “Labels make people invisible; we reduce them to a single adjective.” Are you an adjective? I know you are a human being. You are a complex individual. Embrace your complexities.
Write down your thoughts, questions, and disagreements that you may have, and then put them away. Come back a few days later and read over what you wrote. Now that you have processed (or maybe not processed) your thoughts, take them to someone you are comfortable with. Discuss how you are feeling and what you wrote down. Ask your mental health provider questions and allow them to ask you questions as well. Try your best to stay positive! Know that ultimately you are in control of your life. Be active in determining the best treatment course for you. Do not listen to what worked for your friend, uncle, brother, etc. Your treatment approach is precisely that, your approach. Find those people in your life who support you no matter what, so you have people you are comfortable with.
“We are so much more complex than we could ever explain to anyone.” As a professional, you may have a problem with me trying to narrate your experiences. I am not trying to do that. You have the choice to integrate your struggles, moods, etc., into your life. No one can tell you how to feel and that your feelings are right or wrong. Understand that it is okay to have struggles. It is okay to say, “without my diagnosis, I wouldn’t be the person I am.” You are the only person that can walk your path. Your path can and should empower you. Find pride in your diagnosis as it may be the tool in your life for survival.
Tell your story. Walk your path. Discuss your struggles as well as your success. You are your narrator. Do not feel sorry for yourself, because when and if you do, you are giving up on your path. Embrace everything, including medication. Yes, I said the word medication. Before you turn away, understand that people with high blood pressure, cancer survivors, and diabetic all take medication. Medication helps with leveling out your system. It does not define you, so do not be ashamed of it.
Lastly, if you are reading this, I want you to write about yourself. Describe you and some fun facts about you. After you have done this, did you mention anything about a mental health diagnosis (probably not)? You are powerful, amazing, and one of a kind.
Quote: Mental health problems do not define who you are. They are something you experience. You walk in the rain, and you feel the rain but, importantly, you are not the rain”. – Matt Haig