Why I'm Not Sorry I Was Diagnosed With Mental Illness.
How I came to terms with my beautifully broken mind and became my own person.
How I came to terms with my beautiful mind and became my own person
I remember my first visit to the psychology clinic in a nearby university hospital when I was 11. My mother had dragged me there rather reluctantly. I remember filling out all the "children's forms" while my mother filled the more comprehensive ones in the waiting room chair next to mine. I remember checking more and more of the "yes" boxes as the anxiety I was so accustomed to dug its claws deeper and deeper, worse than any test I'd ever taken. Fretting about a biology or history test cannot compare to what is felt when suddenly it is no longer merely your knowledge of the world around you being tested, but your ability to function in it and to be a "normal," useful member of society. Seeing my mother scrunch her brow as she completed her paperwork did little to ease the not in my stomach. When I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I remember being ashamed. I was upset that I wasn't like the other kids, and that I would have to make weekly trips to a town I was unfamiliar with to talk to someone who made their living listening to my deepest secrets and fears and subjecting me to uncomfortable techniques to overcome them. And it helped, for a while. Until I hit puberty and the tools I had used became more difficult to utilize, and I often lost the motivation to even try. I felt like I was fighting a constant battle just to function. People made me nervous; I had to think through every step or interaction of every day to make sure I wasn't doing anything wrong. And yet it was still obvious I was struggling. So we went back to the doctor's office, where I was given a new diagnosis of depression and a new medication regimen combined with intensive therapy. All the while the psychiatrists treated me like I was an anomaly because they couldn't fit me into all the boxes that normally came with my conditions. "Normally people with OCD don't react with such explosive displays of emotion." "Normally those with depression do not have such poor impulse control." They did not bother to try to understand the person behind the labels, and my parents repeatedly counseled me to keep my illnesses a secret, not because they were ashamed, but because others would not be so understanding. The medications were not put onto any public records, I had to take them secretly in summer camp and on school trips, something that would have gotten me into serious trouble had I been caught. This constant facade, while meant with the best of intentions, only increased my discomfort with who I was, with what I was. All the while I was told to "act normal" or to "just be myself." What everyone failed to realize was that these conditions were part of me. While I overcame the depression, I will forever be working with my OCD, and that is alright. It is no more shameful than having a physical condition such as asthma, and, when properly managed, no more debilitating. So when they finally figured out what else was "wrong" with me shortly after I turned 17, I was actually happy. "I'm sorry to tell you that you have Asperger's syndrome" was the wrong way to put it. It wasn't just another phrase on the medical records my parents tried so hard to keep out of public eyes, it was validation. Validation for who I was, for who I had been since I was old enough to have a recognizable personality. All of the exasperated phrases of "what the hell is wrong with you?!" that had been hurled towards my unwilling ears in desperate fits of anger or misunderstanding, all of my "terrible social skills," there was a reason. An explanation. I wasn't just a broken person. I had a condition. Knowing this, I was able to begin to understand and grow as a person. My mother's solution was to take me to social skills therapy for autistic children, but I refused to continue after one session. I am happy with who I am as a person, despite all of the labels that society views as egregious as black marks on my forehead. I am able to use my "abnormalities" as a way to see the world differently and come up with unique solutions to problems. And I am no longer ashamed to say that I have anxiety disorders and am on the autism spectrum. Because that's who I am. It's as integral to my identity as having blonde hair or my stupidly large nose. What people don't understand is that a diagnosis does not have to be the mark of a leper. It is simply something that officially confirms what is already there. Symptoms don't go away just because they are unacknowledged; they were there before they will be there long after. But being forced to come to terms with their presence brings with it the ability to face these demons, to learn and grow and get help, and maybe even a way to manipulate your condition to your advantage. It brings with it acceptance, and eventually, maybe even peace.