If someone tells you that you are bad at math, especially if you have had a bad experience in a math class, that idea can percolate in your mind for years and eventually you will dread anything to do with math. You might avoid it so much that it limits your career or education, that it holds you down beyond sensible reason. A lot of people are bad at math, this isn’t uncommon. But to allow the idea that you are bad at math to define your identity to the point where it causes this amount of havoc is obviously senseless. You might as well start introducing yourself at parties like this, “Hi, I’m Steve and I’m bad at math”.
But people don’t do that, at least not the introduction part. I would venture a guess that some people do react this way to math, or science, or reading and writing, or anything of that nature. But it is rare. It is at least rare in the sense that I probably know not a soul who does this.
I have certainly met a number of people with mental illness who do, in fact, introduce themselves with their diagnosis. I am sure you have met these people as well, maybe you are someone who does this. But why?
Why does our diagnosis mean so much to us?
I know that when I was diagnosed I felt relieved; like the things I was experiencing were suddenly explainable, even if the explanation was terrifying. And I am sure that most people with mental illness can rely upon their diagnosis as a way to understand what is going on around them. But I also think it is pervasive in our community to use the diagnosis as a crutch.
A common attitude can be found in hospitals and group therapy sessions and support meetings all across the country that ‘I can’t x because I have y’. I don’t want to discredit all of that. I know that when I am depressed I cannot get out of bed, or that when I am manic I cannot stop myself from spending money. I understand that a lot of that is very real and very scary.
But how often do we stay depressed because we think we ought to be? How often do the season changes or the holidays get us down simply because they always have? Are these ruts we find ourselves in from the disease, or are the man-made? How often do we look at those who are better off than us and tell ourselves we could’ve been there if not for our disease? How often do we fight with the ones we love because they are trying to help and we don’t want to admit we find comfort in the darkness?
Our disease doesn’t just drive us in negative ways. I know my limitations, I understand a lot about my triggers, and I have learned to shorten my view when things start getting rough. My long term big goals become immediate small goals. My dreams of running my own company turn to dreams of simply getting to work in the morning. But I still have to set those goals. I have to work my way out of my ruts.
I use my diagnosis as motivation. Let me achieve more than people expect of me, let me accomplish what everyone thought was impossible, that will give me satisfaction.
Your symptoms, your daily life, your dreams and accomplishments and your set-backs. Those are the things that will determine your path, not some words a doctor told you one time. Let the doctors worry about your diagnosis. Hopefully they got it right, and are treating you accordingly, and everything is going well. But if none of that is the case, you can continue to work against the disease, no matter what its name is.
Names don’t hold us back.