Feel Better?

Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today is going to be a bit of a ranting day. It’s on the topic of mental health and the strange platitudes that people without mental illness give us. There are many that make sense to me and I understand why they say them, but there are many that have never made sense to me.

Alright, so I was reading around on the blogs that I follow and I came across something that really resonated with me on BlahPolar Diaries. So, here’s what was said:

And my shrink said, “don’t you feel better now that you know it wasn’t you, it was the disorder?” I don’t. Not even slightly.

This screams to me as coming from someone who has never struggled with mental illness. My immediate, knee jerk response in nothing nice. Having a mental illness diagnosis does not erase all the hurt that I have caused to those around me. Nor does it make any of the symptoms that I have been struggling with magically disappear. It does not in away delete or cover up the memory of all the conflicts and emotional wounds that you’ve both given and received because of your disorder. Having a name for it doesn’t change everything that it has caused.

If I were diagnosed with diabetes and I was struggling with my blood sugars, no one would ever say that to me. If I failed to control my sugars and it lead to me needing to have my foot amputated, no one would dream about saying “don’t you feel better now that you know it wasn’t you, it was the diabetes?” How does that diagnosis make loosing your foot any easier? Sure doesn’t help people walk.

So, why is it that with mental illness people think that the diagnosis some how erases the hurt? It changes your perspective, but it doesn’t give you permission to be an asshole or to hurt others. Despite your diagnosis, you own that. There are no meds nor therapy that changes that reality.

I think that there is a huge misunderstanding about the emotional process that occurs for most people when they get a mental illness diagnosis (or any chronic illness diagnosis). For some reason people think that you will just feel immensely comforted and relieved. Sure there is a degree of relief in knowing what is going on, but the feelings that come with having a diagnosis are way more complex then that. This is especially true when you are diagnosed later in life. When you get the diagnosis you start having the “what if” thoughts. You cannot help but think about how things would have been different if you had been diagnosed and treated sooner. How many of those injuries and emotional scars could have been avoided had you known back then that you had this diagnosis? With that comes a lot of feelings of anger towards those that you feel should have diagnosed you and didn’t. There are the feelings of envy for those that were diagnosed early and were able to avoid all the things you couldn’t.

What people really fail to realize is that there is no separating me from my OCD or my ADHD or my autism. There is no way of sorting out how much of the things that I have done in my life are because I have one of these diagnoses and how much of it is just because of my core personality or life circumstances. Life is way to complex to be so easily simplified. These mental illnesses are a part of the way that my brain functions and thus are a fundamental part of who I am. After all, how do you define a person? We think of their patterns of behavior and their patterns of speech and their preferences. All of these make up who a person is. Yet, all of these things are fundamentally effected by my diagnoses. You cannot separate me from them so easily.

The first objection that I have to this kind of statement is to the idea that “it wasn’t me.” Yes, I have mental illnesses, but I am still a person that makes choices and that is responsible for the choices that I make. My diagnoses absolutely effect the decisions that I make in life, but they are not the sole driving factor. Nor do their influences negate my responsibility for those choices that I made. So, the fact that I have a diagnosis doesn’t make me feel better about having made choices in my life that caused other people to be hurt emotionally. Nor does it do anything to erase that hurt.

My second objection is that it is a reductionist statement that tries to over simplify very complex situations. I’ve lost friendships because I am impulsive and overly blunt. These traits can easily be attributed to my diagnoses. However, relationships are much more complex then that. While this was the issue that the person sited upon their departure, there is always more to it than that. Because the truth is that relationships are about balance. We all bring both positive and negative traits to a relationship. When a relationship is successful it is because the person feels that your positive traits out weigh your negative traits, not because they believe that you don’t have any negative traits. This means that those friendships that I lost were as much about the other person as they were about me. It also means that I failed to offer traits that made up for the impulsivity and bluntness. I can also say that I wasn’t engaging in any kind of dialogue with these people about their grievances and wasn’t trying to address them. All these factors and more are what led to me loosing those friends. Much of that isn’t about my diagnoses and is about how I chose to handle the interpersonal conflict.

In some ways, knowing that I had a diagnosis that was untreated that was contributing to all the problems that I have been struggling with all my life makes me feel worse about the things that have happened in my past. I look back and I think about how different things could have been had I been diagnosed as a child rather then as an adult. If it had just been the way life is, then I could have shrugged it off as life. Which is the way that I was looking at it before I got the diagnosis. But after the diagnosis, I knew there was something there that could be changed, that could be improved upon and that I had control of all this time and had just never known.

So, no. Having a diagnosis does not make me feel better. It does not make me feel less responsible. It makes me feel more responsible. Having a diagnosis means that there are ways to manage and to support my diagnosis. There are ways that I can do better. This means that I could have been doing those things before and I wasn’t. Granted, it’s because I didn’t know. But it doesn’t change the fact that the diagnosis means that my life was not an inevitable outcome but one derived from a biased and poorly managed system. I was a poster child for ADHD and the only reason that I wasn’t diagnosed as a child was because I was a girl. The only reason that I struggled so much in my life is because I was not the preferred gender. So, no. Having this diagnosis leads to me looking back at my life and feeling sadness, disappointment, regret and anger. The system failed me. That’s what my adult diagnosis represents. And that failure resulted in a multitude of struggles that I could have avoided. Because the truth is that those who receive adequate treatment early in life have much better outcomes then those who do not. The truth of my adult diagnosis is that I will never know what I could have been.

Because of that, there is a part of me that thinks not knowing would have been better. Had I never received the diagnosis, then I wouldn’t know about the things that were lost. However, it would also mean continued losses for the future. So, I am grateful to have the diagnosis and the opportunity to better understand the way that my brain works. I see it as a tool to help me shape my future.

But the feelings that I have because I was diagnosed are anything but simple. The grieving that began on the day I was diagnosed will be an ongoing process for the rest of my life, because that is the nature of being human. And everything that I have ever done in my life was me. Diagnosis or not. It was still me. I own that. Please, do not use my diagnosis as an attempt to reduce my responsibility to others or my degree of humanity. Like every human on this planet, I will make my choices and I will live with the consequences of those choices. These diagnoses don’t change that. They are not a separate thing inside me that sometimes takes the wheel when I am not looking. They are a fundamental part of my brain’s functioning which makes them a part of me. Good or bad, they are an aspect of who I am. That means that everything that I do that is driven by my OCD (or ADHD or autism) is still driven by me and my brain and is still a choice that I made.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

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