I have a mental health diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and a few more I am sure I have forgotten over the years. I was in my early twenties, a new wife and mother and found myself pouring out all of my childhood secrets to a psychologist. The chair was hard and the material was itchy. The room smelled of old books and boredom. I found myself staring at his overgrown mustache as he scribbled feverishly about what I could only assume was a vast knowledge of my life. The time spent in that office would alter my journey for the next twenty years, and not in a positive way.
All of those years ago, I was told who I was. The problem was, I was already lost and what I needed was permission to find myself.
I am now a therapist. We are educated to diagnose and label. We are given a manual, larger than life, that is filled with so many labels that I am still convinced you could hand one out to just about anyone. We are told to use these as tools with our clients. It is essential information to help communicate to them what it is that is wrong with them. How to effectively treat them and how they can treat themselves. We are told that having a label or a diagnosis can be encouraging. That a person now knows what is in fact wrong with them and can move forward.
This immediately takes me back to that itchy chair and dusty office. I was scared and I felt alone. I clearly knew I needed to talk about things and I needed some guidance. I had no idea I was going to be handed a life sentence of mental health disorders. I left feeling as if I would never feel better, never live a better life. I remember hearing the words, “this will always be a part of you, you just have to learn to live with it.” I truly believed this, and walked a path of “less than” for another twenty years. I was still lost.
I am one who believes knowledge is power. I felt that if I informed myself more about my labels I would beat this. That was terrifying. For days I buried myself into the world of P.T.S.D., and chronic depression. I found myself sobbing and believing I had no hope. I sat in my physicians office requesting medication for sleep and anxiety. I had now worked myself into a new level of panic. I believed I was headed for all of these things I was reading. You see, I had travelled down some dark roads as a child and even a young adult. Clearly there would be some residual baggage. What I was seeking was more understanding, acknowledgement and tools. What I received instead was a being put inside of a terrifying box filled with labels that didn’t fit. That lid was sealed shut for many years. When I questioned therapists or doctors I was merely told that depression comes in all forms and I may move in and out of any of them. What? When? How? I felt like a ticking time bomb. I stopped living my life. I did not know what happy felt like and guess what. I was just told I was more depressed! Imagine that.
I finally found an amazing therapist that I clicked with. I knew right away she was the right one after she recommended a book for me called *uck It! She was my kind of people. The minute I sat down and began to go over my “labels” she stopped me. She told me she had no desire to know any of that, she wanted to know me. Cue the doves….where had she been all my life. She finally gave me the permission I had been looking for to just find myself.
Fast forward twenty something years (a lady never tells her age) and I will agree that we do in fact need diagnostic labels in some cases. Clearly to properly treat extreme cases and prevent death, we need to know what we are dealing with. Beyond that, please treat the person not the label. To all of you, do not let yourselves be put in that box because you will spend the rest of your life trying to get out of it. You will lose your entire identity. You will restrict your potential. You all deserve so much more. It is okay if you have already been given a diagnosis, but let it be just that. Do not let it become who you are. You are beautiful and smart. You are amazing and loved. You are not broken. You are whole and you are deserving.
Much love ❤