Let’s talk diagnoses for a second. Unlike with physical illnesses, mental illnesses often carry a stigma and a sense of judgement. This can, for some, make certain diagnoses very hard to accept and creates conflict, which gets in the way of healing.
For many, being told you have a mental illness, such as schizotypal disorder, is like being told you’re a crazy person. Just hearing “schizo” might lead the mind to images of raving mad, paranoid lunatics babbling about some absurd conspiracy, or going on about voices only they can hear, telling them to do horrible things. It can be incredibly hard to see something like that in yourself or a loved one. Reality tends to look a lot different than in the movies. And sometimes reality described by one person can look very different for another. Maybe you went and read a quick description of the disorder and thought: “That doesn’t sound like me (or whoever), at all!” It can be a bit hard to interpret general descriptions into individual cases.
Most of us have an idea of what it means to be mentally ill. But when faced with it in reality, it becomes something different entirely and suddenly, we don’t know how to deal with it. Perhaps you’ve heard others say: “But you look/sound perfectly normal to me,” or “everybody gets a little X sometimes, doesn’t mean they’re sick,” or any such similar comment, which leaves you feeling misunderstood and dismissed. Maybe just imagining such reactions prevents you from talking about it at all. It’s such a difficult thing to come to terms with. If it’s not totally obvious, it’s far too easy to simply ignore.
Now then, the unthinkable’s happened: You’ve come home with/to a brand new mental illness. How do you take it? How should you take it?
There are several ways to view diagnoses, and depending on the perspective, the tone and feel of the word can change quite a bit. It can be a helpful tool, or a curse. If for one reason or another, you truly can’t accept your diagnosis, you don’t necessarily have to force yourself to. Just like with any medical diagnosis, there’s always the option of getting a second opinion from another professional, if you suspect the diagnosis doesn’t quite fit your problem. It is possible to receive a wrong diagnosis and if that is the case, it’s best to find the real problem as soon as possible.
Regardless of diagnosis, the important thing is that you receive the help you need. The aim is a better quality of life, not judgement. If that means adopting a certain label or accepting a certain diagnosis, perhaps it is better to focus on the opportunities offered rather than the constraints. The point of diagnosis is to identify the problem and establish a common ground for communication so the proper treatment can be found.
Just remember one thing: You are not your diagnosis! This way of thinking can, in some cases, be more harmful than good. There is a risk of becoming complacent in your illness. It could be used as an excuse not to move beyond your comfort zone and thus prevent you from improving your life. i.e. “This is just who I am, so I don’t need to/can’t change”. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to push yourself beyond your capabilities. Always know your limits.
So how do I view diagnoses, and how did I react to being diagnosed with Schizotypal Disorder?
To be honest, it was a relief. I felt validated somehow. Suddenly, I had proof that yeah, there actually was something wrong with me. And most importantly: there was a way to fix it, that there were people who could help me get me better. With the diagnosis came the treatment plan and others who lived with similar problems to mine. I was no longer quite so alone.
I like to see diagnoses as simply labels. Like on foods. When I say lasagna, we all know what I’m talking about. There’s the special pasta-sheets, the tomato sauce, bechamel sauce and cheese baked together into delicious, Italian goodness. In the same manner, Schizotypal disorder is simply a label with which to identify my personal set of mental problems. Like with lasagna, the specific ingredients that make up the individual case might vary, but there are enough similarities to justify the common label. Both lasagna bolognese and lasagna al forno fit under the label lasagna, even though they have inredients that set them apart.
(Edit: It occurred to me that lasagna is actually a terrible comparison and probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Feel free to completely disregard the entire paragraph above. I apologize for the confusion, and the possible lasagna-craving.)
If I wanted, I could name each ingredient or symptom individually; but in most cases, simply using the label is more convenient. It’s not perfect, but it works well enough for me.
In between writing and editing this entry, I had an interesting conversation that made me rethink this whole topic. I found out someone I know could possibly have a schizoid personality disorder and my reaction upon hearing that was: That guy? Nooo, really? But he has a girlfriend and everything? I mean, isn’t someone with a schizoid personality disorder like a total misanthrope who wants nothing to do with other people at all? And that’s when I realized, I’ve still got so much to learn!
Labels aren’t just labels, they usually come with a certain understanding or preconception, maybe you’ll have some experience with a label, sometimes you don’t. But the thing to remember is: First judgement doesn’t have to be the final judgement. Taking an immediate dislike to a diagnosis is perfectly understandable. We judge things all the time. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong. I’ve had very negative first impressions of plenty of things I’ve ended up changing my mind on. Acceptance comes with understanding. The best thing we can do, is keep learning.
Perhaps I’ll write a bit about schizoid and other personality disorders as well once I know a little more about them.
Mental illness is hard to understand and unfair judgement sucks.
Reality is different from movies. Also, reality is sometimes different from reality.
If you don’t like the name, maybe just change it. The important thing is, you receive the help you need.
Your opinion and feelings do matter.
It’s okay to get something wrong, you can always change your mind. Seriously.