Sunday, April 15, 2012

Let's Diagnose a Mental Illness!

Haven’t you heard? It’s the new party game, fun for all ages and the fab part is, everyone wins! I do like a game where I get to win.
                Look, I do a lot of reading around the web, and if there’s one thing I’ve noticed (hopefully it’s more than one thing, but I don’t want to have my expectations too high, do I?) it’s that we, meaning people, are quick to diagnose mental illness in anyone who isn’t us. Strangers, people mentioned by third parties, people in the news, people not in the news, our neighbors, our friends, our family, our enemies. We are more than eager to diagnose them with a mental illness. Or a mental disorder, if you will.
                “She’s obviously a narcissist, he’s depressed, she’s psychotic, that person over there is bipolar, I bet she’s got borderline . . . “
                And on and on it goes.
                “But I’ve seen someone with exactly the same thing!” I hear, as if that means anything. I’ve been around a few people with cancer, but you don’t see me running around diagnosing random strangers with it. For one thing, it’s rude. For another thing, what the hell do I know about it?
                For a third thing, mental disorders are complex and often difficult for professionals to diagnose. Yes! Get this: there are people trained to diagnose these things and even treat them!
                But we live in an age of DIY, and it’s so much more entertaining for us if we can explain the world and people around us in simple terms.
                “But I recognize the symptoms! I know a manic depressive when I see one!”
                Yes. Occasionally I’m a little . . . manic, but I’m certainly not manic depressive. A psychiatrist once diagnosed me as manic depressive and gave me meds to treat it. Turns out she was wrong, and I and the drugs had an extreme disagreement and I ended up . . . not in very good shape. And she was a professional . . . and still made the mistake. Why? Perhaps because I was under considerable stress and was both depressed at my situation and running around like a madwoman to try to control the situation. Turns out what I really needed was some time off.
                I do have depression. Not that I would diagnose anyone else with it, even being the expert I am just by living with it. So go ahead and diagnose me with that if you will, but please understand that even as a depressive, I’m not walking around under a black cloud and contemplating throwing myself off a building. I’m normally pretty freakin’ happy. That’s because I’m being treated for it, and I know the warning signs when I’m about to have a depressive episode, and I work really hard at not falling into the pit. I’ve had it for a very long time, and I’ve gotten much better at controlling it.
                Which does not mean that everyone can deal with it as I have, or that I’m any sort of expert in how it works, or what one should do. I know how to deal with it for me, and mental illness and disorders (for those who say, “Eeek!” when hearing mental illness), can be very complex. What works for one person . . . works for that one person.
                Sometimes people are just . . . people. Even with odd things going on in our heads, or not. I might regard the sanest person in the world as a little off, just because they’re different from what I expect. Shall I assign them a diagnosis so it’s easily explained? It would make my life easier.
                (However, just for the record, I live with the sanest person in the world, and if he’s off, it’s delightfully so.)
                The problem with assigning diagnoses to random people because we think we know what’s going on with them, besides the fact that we’re not qualified, is that we’re not looking at the whole person. We’re all much more than a single component, and there are a whole lot of things going on with us that can’t be easily categorized by assigning a random diagnosis. Sure, we like to think we’re in control, and we know things, but sometimes . . . we’re not, and we don’t.  
                It’s okay to not know what’s “wrong” with someone. Personally, I have enough of a challenge figuring out what’s up with ME.

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