Hi, hello, I did that thing again where I get super invested in something for two months and then drop it for a while.
I’m really good at that.
Maybe it’s burnout. Maybe I’m just tired. Maybe it’s the ADHD that I’m not sure I have, but relate to a lot. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
Not all, but in part my silence has been due to receiving a new diagnosis. I’ve received a number through the years, obviously. Usually, I feel alright after this sort of thing — relieved, even.
But this time, I shut down. I was scared and overwhelmed. With just a few words, my whole life suddenly clicked into place, and instead of bringing me comfort, all I could think was: my own head is capable of that??
My therapist asked me how I was feeling about it at our next session. I said I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel about it.
She chuckled. “What do you mean, supposed to feel?”
“Like… what do normal people feel after something like this?”
“Does it matter?” she asked. “You’re the one going through it. However you feel about it is what you’re ‘supposed to’ feel.”
With any diagnosis, it’s common to experience a range of emotions. Some examples may include:
Relief – I’m not dying, I just have anxiety! That’s so much more manageable!
Anger – Why couldn’t anyone recognize this before?
Worry – What if my friends don’t want to hang out when they learn I have schizophrenia?
Fear – What if this causes me to hurt myself, or someone I love?
With a terminal diagnosis, such as late-stage cancer, there tends to be a lot more grief, distress, and anxiety. But for mental health diagnoses, relief tends to be the most common reaction.
After all, you’ve been experiencing these symptoms for who knows how long. Now, you finally have a name for it. A name means that, thank whatever god you pray to, you’re not the only person to experience this. A name means understanding. A name means hope. It’s better to fight the devil you know, right?
But, as I learned recently these last few months, it can also be alarming. I’d already been through the worst of it, but learning this is a chronic illness means there’s the possibility of it happening again, and again, and again. This diagnosis felt like something I couldn’t control, like I couldn’t take care of myself if I were to go through another episode. While I was relieved at finally understanding why I behave certain ways, I was also afraid of “losing myself” to this illness in the future.
With time and research, I’ve learned this diagnosis is explaining many of my oddities, the little things that left me feeling untethered from reality. On the one hand, a lot of things are making sense. On the other hand, I’m left wondering, “What other aspects of my life can be explained by this? Is my entire personality just symptoms of this disorder?” (Logically speaking, I know this isn’t true. But, when your whole world gets turned on its head, logic is slow to take root.)
Then comes the fear of letting go. People experiencing chronic depression often feel reluctant to begin treatment, and the same is true of any mental illness, especially mood disorders. Nobody wants to be consumed by feeling anxious or paranoid or apathetic. It’s awful, and I’m speaking from experience. But — and again, experience — it can sometimes seem like you don’t know who you are outside of those feelings. You’ve been at the bottom of the well for so long that the idea of anything other than damp, dark, and cold is overwhelming, even frightening. It’s hard work climbing the slippery walls. Sunshine sounds painful and blinding. What’s the point of climbing out if there’s a possibility of falling back in? And so on.
So what’s my point? Good question.
With ever-increasing reports of depression, anxiety, and emotional burnout, many of us are receiving new or worsening diagnoses. It can make you feel like you’re alone in your suffering, but I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. There are others experiencing exactly the same thing — so many, in fact, that there is a name for what you’re going through. Find those people. Talk about what you’re experiencing. Discuss things that help and things that make it worse. A community that understands what you’re going through will make all the difference in the world.
If you don’t know how to feel about something, remember: you’re the one going through it. Whatever you’re feeling is exactly what you’re supposed to feel.
I want to remind you:
You are more than your diagnosis.
You are not your illness.
Your disorder is lying to you.
You are loved, and worthy of love.
You are valued and appreciated.
It’s okay to not be okay.
Drink some water. Eat a snack. Walk around the block.
Blessed be, lovelies.
Fine print: you may have noticed a lack of statistical data for this post. This is because many resources on diagnoses trend toward cancer or other terminal illnesses. The content of this post was largely drawn upon personal experience and stories from others who have received a mental disorder diagnosis.