In my 23 years I have been diagnosed with two mental health illnesses.
The first was OCD when I was 14, an anxiety disorder that can cause the individual to experience intrusive thoughts and a need to carry out rituals as a result. Before my diagnoses, I felt isolated and ashamed of who I was
The second was depression, following a break up and living 200 miles away from home at university in the South West of the UK.
Feeling alone without a diagnosis
Before my diagnoses, I felt isolated and ashamed of who I was. I felt like I must have been the only person on the planet who was experiencing what I was going through.
And even then, I knew something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on what that was. A diagnosis showed me that what was happening to me had a name, it was recognised as something that could be treated.
In turn, this made me more open to treatment including medication. I saw it in the same way as I saw a physical illness: it needed treating to go away or to keep it at bay at least. This insight has been invaluable.
The positives of having a diagnosis
Having a diagnosis has equipped me with the tools to explain myself to other people.
I would say I have always been more anxious, more alert and on edge than others I know. For such a big period of my life I had no idea why that was which made me angry that I wasn’t the same as other people.
Now I know that I have a medical reason for my behaviour and it’s a reason I can use to help other people understand.
If I am having a particularly bad day, I can tell people that it’s because of my OCD.
There are webpages dedicated to the anxiety disorder that people can read and I feel as though it describes who I am perfectly. When I find it difficult to explain myself, I now have the back up of all that information out there that I never knew existed before.
Having a label has always felt important to me; I’ve 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?
If I was to look at having a diagnosis from the flip side, it has only confirmed my suspicions that I am not a “normal” human being. Although having the label of “OCD” and “depression” has allowed me to normalise things for myself in terms of 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.
Linked to this point, I feel as though diagnoses can sometimes add to that taboo of there being two categories of people in life: the mentally well and the mentally unwell. People like me who have a diagnosis are lumped into the latter. But I would argue that these groups don’t exist. Sure, there are people with and without diagnoses but that doesn’t mean that you are either one or the other.
Everyone can experience poor mental health
Everyone is on a continuum.
It’s possible that everyone can experience poor mental health at some point in their lives
Some days we might wake up and feel terrible and can’t put our finger on why or we might experience a life event that in turn causes poor mental health. It’s 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.
The idea that these two groups exists also feeds into the idea that those with a diagnosis are ill and need to get better. When we have been diagnosed, the very thing we want to achieve is “recovery.” But I would argue that my OCD will never go away and its makes up such a big part of who I am. Why do I need to constantly fight against that and strive to be what society deems as “normal”? Sure, I probably am a more anxious individual than the next person but don’t we need this mix of people in the world?
Maybe sometimes a diagnosis can just be reflecting a different way of thinking and being, not something toxic that needs to be tackled and eradicated.
I have always been taught that my way of thinking isn’t normal and that it needs changing which has only lead to me hating this part of myself
I now feel proud to admit this and scream it from the rooftops: my OCD IS part of me; it makes me who I am. I have always been taught that my way of thinking isn’t normal and that it needs changing which has only lead to me hating this part of myself.
But I don’t want to hate that anymore.
Instead, I believe that I can live alongside my OCD, listen to it, try to understand it, accept it and embrace it as part of my identity. My brain works differently to yours which means that I experience and to respond to stress in my own unique, individualised way.
And you know what? I’m perfectly ok with that. How boring would life be if we were all exactly the same?!