I thought I had depression, ADHD and OCD. These are ideas that I’ve allowed into my sacred space of mind and have given my blessing to stay for the wellbeing of my everything. These are labels I have finally learned to accept and attribute most of my problems to. I don’t understand why last month, when I talked to my cousin, my family and my psychologist, they now think that I may have a “minor” case of borderline personality disorder. What does minor even mean to me at this point?
Having something regarding mental illness is experiencing an alternate universe of unique perspectives all caving in. Whether it be severe or minor or somewhere in fucking limbo, the experience is not your norm, nor is it functional.
And then there was this week’s abrupt table-flip of events. I was heartbreakingly staring at my childhood psychiatrist in Honolulu, Hawaii in a session with my mom and dad as he told me that, no, he doesn’t think I have BPD; instead, he speculates that I’ve been suffering from bipolar disorder for all these years, and this is why I do not react well with typical antidepressants, as well as the reason that depression doesn’t explain my mood shifts. “It’s not a personality disorder,” Dr. says, “It’s a mood disorder.” At this point, what do I do? I cry and I curl up in a ball on my bed.
The thing about diagnosing someone with mental illness is that there is no foolproof way of doing this with 100 percent accuracy. There is a chemical imbalance that can be accounted for, but the ways of testing someone for mental illness are mostly observational. Observations differ based on how the persxn being studied feels at the time, what they decide to show and who is doing the observing.
Seeing as I have been switching from psychologist to psychiatrist to family members, everyone has their own professional opinion, and I have my own emotional opinions about myself, but I wonder, “Do I even exist at this point? When can one be sure that their diagnosis is true, and when will their sense of identity be secure?”
— Me talking to myself with no verbal language
Have you ever been labeled? Has your brain ever been labeled? When this happened, did it feel liberating or extremely painful? Personally, I felt both of these emotions when I first got labeled as having something I didn’t want to have. I didn’t know if this was my way out of the darkness or deeper into it. There was something really sad about getting a confirmation that you were not normal, but I also felt lighter. The lightness came from knowing that this label described a condition that wasn’t my entire identity. It seemed like something that made it harder to express my true self when its symptoms were out of control, but also like a part of me that could enhance my identity if these symptoms were tamed into creative outlets. The thing that gets me is, how do we know if a label is correct? There are so many doctors with so many different lenses through which they perceive their patients and opinions on what treatment they find most effective. Which one of the millions of possible combinations for healing is going to be right for one individual’s needs? I do not know the answer to this question. All I know is that I, like many other people, have seen more than one doctor with more than one prescription, due to circumstances like moving around, not being compatible with someone or simply needing both a psychiatrist and a psychologist at the same time, and I have been seen as a different person by them all.
I have been labeled too many times. I have been told that the reason why there are piles of labels under my name now is because these disorders all deal with the same circuits in the brain, and the wiring that is “off” is off for them all, creating some sort of chain reaction of adverse mentalities that just seems to slow me down. However, I don’t know what slows me down more, the fact that I have these disorders (supposedly) or the fact that I have been recently labeled with “opposing” BPD and bipolar disorders. This just confuses the shit out of me, quite frankly. How am I supposed to go forward with a diagnosis and plan of action when the diagnoses are now hazier than ever? I am from Honolulu, Hawaii, and my psychiatrist here just told me that one mislabeled diagnosis can lead to a lifetime of turmoil because I will be receiving behavioral and cognitive therapy that will not work, and medication that could make me feel worse and result in acting out instead of calming any rough terrain. I am anxious as to what my future will look like with this unclear journey of receiving such labels.
The minute I receive a new label, I look up all of the symptoms on Web MD. You know what, I am not thankful for Web MD when this happens, because I think of myself as my own doctor. This is bad news. Now, because I have half memorized a few facts from behind the computer screen, I start to literally act out these symptoms. I’m not sure if I already had the symptoms, or if the website is fooling me into thinking that I have these symptoms. What I am sure of is that everything gets amplified. I become an exaggerated version of myself. I am stuck in a place that has no direction. There aren’t any moments of clarity in this circle of theatrical mental illness, either. It’s me and Web MD alone in a zone where the audience doesn’t know who they are watching anymore. It’s a very lonely place to be.
What do you do when you are getting labeled with things that contradict each other? It’s one thing to get more than one diagnosis when they relate to each other, but it’s another story when different people believe that you are suffering from unrelated disorders. Labels can be pitted against each other, and this makes me feel like I am being pitted against myself. Maybe I have many different sides, and some of them are being seen and some of them have to fight the others. I am not okay with how this process makes me feel. By putting you in a box, labels can take away your sense of self.
So, labels can be your BFF or your fucking nightmare. This all depends on if you feel comfortable with the label, meaning it makes sense to you and it feels right. Feeling right can be from intuition, it can be from trusting the source of the label, or from just loving the fact that the label explains your struggles. Labels can be harder if there are contradicting labels given to you that no one can really figure out, meaning that no one is positive that you are one way or the other. In this case, you most probably just test out different solutions for what you have been labeled, and through trial and error, see what improves your wellbeing. This is a challenge. This is a risk. Without the confidence behind a label, the security of taking action is just not there sometimes.
I will continue to explore the labels I have been given in a constructive way, which doesn’t include internet sources or labeling myself. I refuse to label myself as anything but a trying and growing humxn, and I will only let labels into my life that I can put my faith in. I will not give up on the path to finding out who I am, what my struggles are called and how to receive the right treatment. Until then, I will remain as strong as possible and always remember the beauty that lies within each one of us and that this beauty can never be touched by any label, nor can it be expressed through any words. I wish you luck on your own journey with or without labels, and I hope to cross paths with you soon.