Monday, 11 November 2013

Diagnosis - a helpful tool or a label to live by?

After a VERY busy few weeks, I'm back! Well, mostly. I still have an awful lot of college work to do, but I've missed my blogging, so, here I am.

I've been pondering recently with this whole concept of a diagnosis. I've never really had a "set" diagnosis for some of my symptoms. Anxiety and depression, yes, but I've never had a formal thing from a doctor saying who The Man is, or why I have the repetitive thoughts that I do. It does bother me, but I was thinking today - WHY does it bother me?

If someone was to walk in, listen to my symptoms, make an assessment and write down what criteria I fit from a manual, how does that benefit me? It won't change anything. I still might wake up tomorrow and have a particularly low day, or I might wake up in the night feeling anxious. Just because someone has said I have anxiety and depression, it didn't stop those things. Right?

So how does a diagnosis help? When I first got my depression diagnosis, it didn't change a thing. In fact, it made life more difficult for me. I was about 14, and suddenly told I had to take medication. It was a liquid form of Prozac and the most vile thing EVER. All of a sudden, I started feeling angry at the world. I'd be full of hatred one day, and completely unemotional the next. Now I can understand Patient Information Leaflets better, I realise these were common side effects, but I struggled at the time. Someone had thrust this label upon me, and I hated it with a vengeance. I didn't want to stick out anymore than I did, I didn't want people to have another reason to pick on me. This meant I actually ended up often skipping Prozac and not only having erratic mood swings, but also feeling unwell a lot of the time. No one told me what depression was, how it presents itself, and how I could look after myself.

But on the flip side, I look at my anxiety and I'm thankful for that diagnosis. I remember my first panic attack very clearly and I thought I was dying. I'm talking blue lips, loss of feeling in fingertips, and oxygen mask type panic attack. I was told I was asthmatic, given an inhaler and to be careful during my Thursday afternoon P.E. sessions. Cool! I can do that! EASY.

WRONG. Obviously an inhaler wasn't much of a fix to the problems I was facing. Panic attacks still played a massive part of my life. I thought it was just this asthma, it was just new, I had to get it under control and then I'd be fine, I'd be cured! But then I started to realise, especially after I left school, that my stomach was hurting a lot. I'd feel light headed, nauseous, shaky and out of control. I'd worry about the tiniest things, I'd want to fix everything, be in control, and I wasn't. It upset me that I couldn't calm myself down, everyone else seemed so normal, why was this just happening to me?

And when a doctor told me about anxiety, it was like a massive sigh of relief. I wasn't the only one. No, it wasn't asthma, and there's things we can do to try help. Medication, CBT, talking therapies. And all of a sudden, all these doors of opportunity were opened to access support. I started to recognise my symptoms of panic attacks and knew when I needed to get out into the fresh air. Of course, as I mentioned before, it didn't take it away, but I felt a lot less isolated and that was a comfort.

So labelling - good or bad? I'm not a professional, I can only speak of my own personal experiences. For me, I think the pros outweigh the cons. Having a diagnosis is tough, but now I'm older and more able to access information, I have a better understanding of my conditions. My anxiety in particular can be somewhat comforted when I know the way I'm feeling isn't anything I need to be overly alarmed about. Without that diagnosis, I wouldn't have tried to find more information. Labelling is down to you as an individual. If someone were to tell me I had a life-threatening illness, I'd want to know more. I'd want to know how I can get treatment, what's out there, am I the only one? And I'd want to make the most of my life where I could. For me, it's no different. Yes, I have a mental health disorder, but I am NOT my mental health disorder. It might be a part of me, but it isn't me. It's like a Christmas dinner. I'm happy to have a proper roast with all the trimmings, and my nanny will always put sprouts on my plate, even though I've detested them since the day I was born. That Christmas dinner is still awesome whether I eat those sprouts or not - they're just there. As my nanny says - "if you don't want them, just leave them." It sounds so simple and obvious, but its true!

I'd love to know what other peoples experiences of getting a diagnosis is. Did it help? Was it detrimental at first and then shaped itself into something better as time passed? Have you just let it go over your head and carried on life as you know it?