Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Mental Health Diagnosis Shouldn't Define You

My mental illness and I have always been on a collision course. Armed with a bachelors from Cornell and a JD, I did what other disabled individuals may not bother: research. Even before I was medicated for my first depression, I would walk from my therapist’s office in Greenwich Village to a nearby Barnes and Noble to read self-help books. I would then go home, too depressed to follow their suggestions. When a self-help book mentioned a diagnostic manual, I looked at that too. I also believed it, which became a problem. When my psychiatrist diagnosed me as bipolar, I hadn’t been manic. He was the Chief of Psychiatry at a major New York City hospital so he knew there was more to bipolar illness than alternating manic-depressive episodes. Now the diagnostic manual describes Bipolar II disorder and mixed episodes. My psychiatrist didn’t explain how he came to his conclusion and lead me to believe I would always be depressed.

Later in my treatment, my problem would be the opposite: I hated the stigma associated with a diagnosis. Don’t we all have faults? Shortly after being diagnosed, a therapist encouraged me to go to a workshop on codependency, which involves excessive emotional reliance on a partner. At the workshop, the speaker described her codependent relationship with her cat. I did not return.

Now I realize a mental health diagnosis is the same as any other diagnosis. It classifies people who display the same symptoms. It’s mostly necessary for health insurance purposes. It doesn’t define a person and it certainly doesn’t stop someone from getting better.

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