Please Stop Invalidating People Who Self Diagnose

Recently, I saw a livid Facebook post about self-diagnosing and how this apparently invalidates ‘real’ mental health problems. This viewpoint is nothing new. The internet is crawling with people who suffer from mental illnesses that they have been diagnosed with by mental health professionals, who resent those who have no official diagnosis, but who use the same diagnostic terms to describe themselves. I understand why this can be frustrating for people who have mental illnesses and I understand that there are people out there who certainly misuse diagnoses. Self-diagnosis can be unhealthy and risky and I don’t recommend it.

However, I cannot get behind the arguments of so many of the people with ‘real’ mental illnesses. In fact, I think the arguments many of them present are harmful, ignorant, toxic, hypocritical, and lack empathy on many levels. This disappoints me, because for the most part, in my experiences, people who suffer from mental illnesses tend be quite adept at taking their own experiences with adversity and turning it into compassion for other human beings. Their wisdom and empathy is more often than not, unmatched by most other people. The portion of mentally ill individuals who resent self-diagnosers surprises me.

I want to briefly note that I have never been diagnosed with anything. I talk about depression a lot on my blog. But if you read my early posts about it, you will notice that I preface everything by desperately assuring my readers that I use the term depression in non-clinical sense, because I am so afraid of someone getting on my ass about how my ‘depression’ isn’t real and how I am offending and invalidating ‘real’ depressed people. I don’t pretend to have been diagnosed. I don’t claim to have a mental illness. I do, however, know that I have, for years, had an unusually difficult time accessing the feeling of happiness, or often times, any feeling at all, it has impacted my life profoundly. I’m trying to get myself back. I’m trying to stop feeling numb. So I talk about my struggles and feelings online and I try not to offend anyone with ‘real’ mental illnesses. I am not someone who feels the need to self-diagnose though. So I stand kind of in the middle of this argument.

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The reason I have never been diagnosed with anything isn’t because I’ve visited a bunch of mental health professionals and still received no diagnosis. No, it’s because I have grown up in an unsupportive family who doesn’t believe in therapy or counseling. They do not believe in sharing emotions, and don’t seem to even believe in mental illnesses. Asking my parents to see a mental health professional would put me in an emotionally unsafe place. To get caught visiting a mental health professional in secret, would be even worse. There is no emotionally safe way for me to receive help or a diagnosis until I am financially independent and living entirely separate from my parents. On top of that, I do not have the funding to spare to see a professional, much less repeatedly visit one. I don’t have a ‘real’ diagnosis because I have not had the opportunity to even come close to getting one.

What these “I hate people who self-diagnose” people do not seem to understand, is that not everyone has the privilege of seeing a qualified mental health professional. Not everyone has the privilege of having their emotional adversity recognized, identified and validated by a qualified individual. Not everyone has the privilege of receiving the help they need to heal, a prescription, a word to tell them that their pain matters. There is a massive population of mentally ill people who don’t even know why they’re struggling or how to get better. They think there is something wrong with them. They think they’re alone. Or worse yet, because of the “I hate self-diagnosers” party’s shaming and hate speech (yeah, I’ll go out on a limb and call it that), these people are forced to feel like their feelings do not matter, their feelings are invalid and as if they’re the villains because they’re apparently ‘trivializing’ ‘real’ mental illnesses.

It seems to me that if you face emotional adversity, and you’ve been lucky enough to have that emotional adversity recognized, you should be aware that you probably had that same emotional adversity even before you were diagnosed. Having a therapist tell you you’re OCD isn’t what made you OCD. You had OCD before that. If you didn’t, your therapist would not have told you that you have OCD. If you are mentally ill, you should also be aware of how crucial validation is, and how much it hurts when you are blatantly invalidated. If you want others to make you feel validated, you should put forth an effort to make other people feel validated, or, if that’s too much trouble for you, at least refrain from hurting and invalidating your fellow human beings. Mentally ill or not, everyone needs validation and kindness. Insisting that a person is not really mentally ill does not make harmful words and invalidation any more acceptable.

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Your mental illness is not invalidated as soon as other people (mentally ill or not) say they have it too. It is always valid and real, because you feel it and it impacts you. You don’t have to feel threatened or trivialized because there are people using the same terms you use to describe your struggles, to describe their struggles.

There are so many self-diagnosing people who probably really do suffer from some kind of mental illness, and are lost and scared and confused and just want to know that there is a word for the emotional turmoil they are experiencing. You can argue that self-diagnosers are not qualified to claim they have a mental illness, but you are no more qualified to tell them they don’t have one.

Laughter Is A Side Effect Of The Best Medicine

A lot of people really seriously subscribe to the notion that laughter is the best medicine. They value humor strongly because it makes them happy and to them, laughter is an integral part of happiness. In their eyes, when it comes to emotional problems, there are few better solutions. I agree that laughter is very important and can often play a unique role in the healing process, but not because I believe laughter alone is therapeutic (though it can be) or because humor makes people happy (though it does). I think that in the midst of all that, there is something even more intrinsic to the healing process that is often overlooked when it comes to this subject.

In many, many situations, laughter is a symbol of a mutual understanding, a relationship of sorts, between two or more people who have both found the same thing funny. When people laugh at a joke, it’s because they both get it. They’re on the same page, and whether they know it or not, they are bonding over something. I think that bond is what makes laughter so powerful, because we all crave relationships with other people. We want to know that someone else ‘gets it,’ even if ‘it’ is just the punchline to an amateur comedian’s corny joke, because if someone can ‘get’ that, maybe they can ‘get’ you too.

Laughter reminds us that we’re not alone. It breaks down those invisible walls that make us feel isolated, and brings people together. It helps us connect, and I think that human connection is the best medicine. Laughter is just a common side effect.

You Know That Awful Feeling Of Descending Into A Gloomy Pit Of Depression?

I apologize in advance for the disorganized and melancholic nature of this post. It’s not really a fun or interesting one, it’s just something I felt like I needed to write about and get off my chest.

When you’ve spent the past three years of your life existing in a sort of languid fog of sadness , self loathing and paralyzing numbness, feeling even just ‘okay’ for a few months seems like this massive feat, partially because it is, but mostly because when you’re living in this state of mind, contentment seems like some kind of distant dream or coveted impossibility. For the past few months, I’ve managed to achieve ‘okayness.’ There were even days where I was legitimately happy with myself. Mostly though, I was absolutely thrilled that I still had the ability to feel that emotion and that somehow I had crawled out of the dingy hole I’d been rotting in. I hadn’t felt that way in literally years. Lately though, the best words I can find to sum up my feelings are, “Well, fuck…”

I’ve been finding that ‘okayness’ becoming harder and harder to access. Contentment only comes in intermittent bursts, my smiles feel fake, I make stupid jokes sometimes and no matter how hard people are laughing, I remain straight-faced, not because I am a master of straight-faced humor, but because in the past month or so, it seems that nothing I do can make me happy. I reread old blog posts and start blushing with humiliation because it all just sounds like pseudo-intellectual, mawkish bullshit now. Hours of my time are wasted staring at blank Word documents because starting the story I want to write just feels so futile. I haven’t written a good song all summer and what’s even scarier, is that I pick up my guitar less and less these days. Even back when I was suicidal I still played.

The problem isn’t just the sadness and numbness though, it’s also about the fear. I don’t trust sadness to just go away anymore. I used to be able to assume that sadness was a fleeting emotion. It would pass, I’d be okay, it wasn’t anything to worry about. Last time I got sad, it stuck around for three years. The feelings I’m experiencing now are frighteningly familiar, and I keep suppressing them and trying not to feel them because I just want to be okay and it doesn’t work.

College is starting next month. Aside from worrying about starting this new chapter of my life depressed and numb, I am terrified. And I know I’m supposed to be terrified. Everyone is terrified of college. But I’m terrified of my inevitable failure. It’s not just that I’m terrified of the unfamiliarity of college. My terror is not a question, it’s a statement. It says “You will not make friends, you’ll fail your classes, you’ll eat every meal alone, you won’t join any of those cool clubs you were interested in, you’ll make everyone hate you including yourself and that is why you should feel terrified.” That just keeps circling in my head, keeping me up at night.

So I’ve been feigning happiness in attempt to run from my sadness. A few weeks ago, at college orientation, I adopted this persona of enthusiasm and sociability and pretended to be having fun. I met some really nice people that way, but they didn’t meet me. My journal has been sitting untouched in my top desk drawer because I’m afraid if I write in it, the true feelings will come out. Next week, I have a five day outdoor orientation for college that I signed up for where I’ll go backpacking with some other incoming freshman, and I’m sure I’ll spend the whole time pretending to be as outgoing and friendly as I can and basing my first friendships on lies.

Some part of me feels guilty for not being happy. I am so privileged. I have no reason to feel like this. I also feel like I owe it to those around me to be okay, like if I let my sadness show, I’ll drag everyone else down with me. And I feel selfish for thinking about my own emotions so much because technically I’m being self absorbed. But I’m also kicking myself for lying to everyone I meet. I guess I just feel like, by existing, I’m doing a disservice to the world, and the only bright side is that at least I was able to cut the bullshit for long enough to admit to myself that I am not okay right now, and as much as I really want this to end up being a false alarm, it is entirely possible that I’m not going to be ‘okay’ for awhile.

Journaling And Healing

It never ceases to amaze me how important journaling is to my life, as well as the lives of many others. It’s absolutely astounding, because a journal serves an entirely unique and different purpose for every person who keeps one. This girl from my high school used to have this handmade journal that she took to school with her and sometimes in the middle of class she would just get up, dart out and grab some paint from the art room, return and add some art to her journal. The teachers never minded because 1.) They were all really cool alternative school teachers who respected her emotionally healthy lifestyle and 2.) She was keeping up with her studies. For her, a journal wasn’t just about writing down what happened to you or venting or fawning over the cute guy next door. It probably served that purpose at times, but from my understanding, her journal was a second manifestation of herself. She cut and pasted pictures from magazines and newspapers in it, painted and drew and sometimes wrote. It was much more ambiguous and universal than people expect journals to be, and it was so different than my own journals.

My own journals were much more linear than hers and sometimes I wished they could be as broad and artistic as hers, because I really envied her ability to express herself using both words and pictures. All I had was words. Also, I never made my own journals. I would save up and spend $40 on handmade, Italian leather journals with beautiful, crisp, warm yellow paper. It made me feel like a pretentious asshole, but I really loved those journals. I filled their pages with documentations of my life experiences, and with philosophies about life and descriptions of people who mattered to me, so I’d never forget them.

It took awhile for me to realize exactly how significant my seemingly mundane retellings of my daily experiences really were. Something about that style of journaling seemed so superficial and trivial to me and it wasn’t until an entry I wrote sometime in the summer after my sophomore year of high school that I finally realized the importance of writing about everyday life. Things had gotten really bad that year and I’d almost killed myself that March. I’d been experiencing some upwards motion with my recovery though and that day in summer, I’d turned back to the entry I wrote from that spring. It would’ve been the last entry I ever wrote if I’d killed myself then, and in that moment, I realized that between March 6th and July 19th, there was a hefty handful of pages.

Within that handful of pages, I had made new friends, met inspirational people, been to the tops of mountains (literally as well as metaphorically) and experienced so many more small but monumentally life-changing moments that I am forever grateful to be able to call a part of my story. What I came to understand then, was that none of those moments would’ve happened if I’d killed myself that day in March. My story would’ve been cut short and I’d have missed out on everything that happened between the pages I was holding in my hand. I counted, and there are 102 pages of life and learning between March 6th, 2013, and July 19th, 2013.

There is life and meaning, even in the darker moments of your story. The entries I wrote seemed so trivial sometimes, because they were often literally just documentations of the everyday. What I didn’t realize is that every day is magical and sometimes those experiences are valuable simply because they happened– because you let them happen. Life goes on without us whether we want it to or not. There may be times when it feels too meaningless or too empty or too heavy, but those beautiful moments will find us even if we don’t look for them or see them coming, and when they do, they will bring meaning and depth and that weight will lift off.

March 6th, 2013 was certainly not the last day I felt like writing my final chapter. There were many more of those to come, but today, July 30th, 2015, there are 3 entire journals more of beautiful moments, thoughts and memories. I don’t know how many pages that is, because I haven’t counted, but I don’t think it matters, because what’s important is that I got the chance to experience those and even if some of those entries were mundane and ordinary, they still happened, and I am so grateful and happy for that.

How Sadness/Depression Taught Me Love

I’m still incredibly uncomfortable talking about this because the entire experience still feels so invalid to me. I am reluctant to even call my feelings ‘depression,’ even though they drove me thisclose to taking my life, depleted my academic and social motivation persisted for years and robbed me of some of the fundamental parts of my character (still working on getting myself back). Before anything, I want to establish that I was never officially diagnosed with depression. I never saw a mental health professional about it for several reasons, the first being that I was so terrified of anyone finding out how I felt that I kept it all to myself, the second being that I wasn’t entirely sure I deserved to be get treatment because I didn’t really know if I was ‘depressed enough’ for it. Please note that when I use the term ‘depression’ from now on, to describe my experience, I am not using it in a clinical sense, I’m using it strictly as a simple adjective that describes my feelings.

Some part of me still feels like it was just really bad teenage angst, because the feelings began when I was fifteen, and who doesn’t feel like shit when they’re fifteen? But I know what teenage angst feels like, and it’s not like this at all. I don’t really know how to sum up how I’ve been feeling for the past three or so years, especially because there doesn’t appear to be a single, identifiable cause for it. If I had a reason, I’d at least have a basis for this. Instead, at a time in my life when everything was falling into place exactly how I wanted it to, I just started to feel like there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Happiness became increasingly hard to access. Anger and resentment filled in for awhile, as I tried to figure out what was happening. The problem with anger is that it’s an exhausting emotion, and highly destructive too. Eventually I found that what’s easier than blaming everyone else is turning that inwards on yourself. At least that gives you the illusion of control. “Look, I can manipulate my emotions. I can take responsibility and control.” The major problem with this coping mechanism is the self-loathing it harbors and how it teaches you to abuse yourself.

It didn’t matter what I did because I always felt like I’d done it wrong. All of my actions felt like failures and I came to believe that must make me a failure. Not only was I a failure, but I was a hopeless failure– I couldn’t get things right if I tried. So I stopped trying. My grades slipped, I neglected my health, my social circle stopped expanding, and my relationships unraveled. I became shy and withdrawn, and the quieter I got, the louder the voice of my self loathing grew. At first, there was this unbearable, intense sadness. I guess eventually that sadness got too heavy to carry, so I put it down, and you’d think that would solve the problem right? Instead, it just left me with absolutely nothing to feel. I became numb and afraid. I think the absence of emotion, the inability to feel, is scarier than negative emotions, because emotions are so much of what makes us human, and the feeling of losing your humanity is terrifyingly isolating.

You hear about troubled kids who ‘act out’ by experimenting with drugs, getting aggressive, sneaking out, having promiscuous sex and drinking. They’re highly stigmatized by many ignorant people, but the general consensus among educated individuals regarding their behavior is that they’re in a hard place in life and ‘acting out’ is their way of distracting themselves, calling for help, numbing themselves, making themselves feel anything at all. It’s the kids who do the opposite, who ‘act in,’ who are curiously elusive of publicity. Maybe it’s my shy nature, maybe it’s the fact that all my life I’d prided myself in my dreadful ability to suppress my emotions and refrain from self expression, but I ended up ‘acting in.’ The anger and hate I directed at myself consumed every last bit of self-worth I had, leaving me with this awful sense of undeserving. Suddenly everything I did felt selfish. Asking questions in class, having friends, talking, eating, breathing, were all these disgusting expressions of entitlement and I told myself that everyday, along with ‘I hate you,’ ‘you fucked up,’ ‘it’s all your fault,’ ‘you’re hopeless,’ ‘you’re so stupid’ and many other tidbits of abusive ‘wisdom.’ I acted on these feelings by engaging in what is, perhaps the most well-known form of ‘acting in’: I cut myself.

Self harm does not fix anything though, all it does is leave you with nasty scars on your body and much anxiety regarding keeping them hidden. I still don’t know what fixes depression, because I still experience it (to a much lesser degree currently though), and also because when it comes to depression, I don’t think recovery is like ‘getting fixed.’ It’s not that linear and simple and snappy. It’s more of a process of healing and most of all, learning. We all learn and heal differently, and I can’t speak for everyone, but what improved things drastically for me, was pushing myself to learn to love everyone around me, and to express that more. People often like to mount their high horses and pontificate about how, “You cannot love another until you love yourself,” because it makes them feel wise or insightful or something. Maybe that saying is true for them, but for me, and probably many others, it’s bullshit, and extremely destructive bullshit at that (“Thanks for telling me I’m a cold-hearted bitch. I feel much better now.”)

I may have hated myself more than can ever be expressed, but after awhile I discovered that my self loathing did not abolish my ability to love other people, so I made it my job to find the good in people, starting with those closest to me, and working my way out until pretty soon I had come to the conclusion that everyone in the world is a beautiful soul, a beating heart and most of all, a human being, and because of our shared humanity, I could relate to them and love them. Something about that gave me a sense of purpose, like I was finally doing something right and giving back. The recognition of everyone as just another human caused that isolation to evanesce, at least a little bit. There’s a line in a Pink Floyd song that says, “We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl.” The way I see it, everyone in the world is just a lost soul swimming in a fish bowl, and even if we don’t agree on things, or treat each other poorly sometimes, or fail to understand each other, or even dislike each other at times, I believe there’s a kind of love that can be felt for every single person who exists, has existed, and will exist, simply because we are human, and we need love, and that’s enough.