You Are Not Your Diagnosis
“Depressed people think they know themselves, but maybe they only know depression.”
– Mark Epstein
For some receiving a mental health diagnosis is a good thing because it creates certainty around an area that was always cloudy and threatening. Just having an explanation can provide a lot of relief, even when this explanation doesn’t do anything to lessen the symptoms of whatever the disease is. Uncertainty creates existential anxiety, and the painful symptoms associated with it will probably go down if you have a firm answer telling you what is happening to you.
But for some people receiving a diagnosis is a crushing blow. They begin to see themselves as less, to believe that their lives as they have lived them are fraudulent, that they are their symptoms. But a diagnosis is just another label, one with a lot more stigma than most, but a label nonetheless. It is only a tool for general categorization and can’t say a whole lot about who you are as a person.
If you do have a diagnosis, there are some narrative techniques that you can use to help yourself out. The first is to always use person first language when thinking about yourself and others. For example, you are not a depressed person, you are a person who is depressed. Language is powerful, and always putting yourself and others before labels instead of after them shapes your philosophical thinking, reminding you that people are much more than the adjectives used to describe them.
The second is to externalize whatever mental health disorder your diagnosis represents, treating it as a separate entity, something distinctly different from you. Get to know it as well as you possibly can. In this process you will get to know yourself much better since logically everything that remains behind after your disorder has been externalized is you.
The good part about a diagnosis is that, if it’s correct, we have an idea of what the most effective course of action is to treat and cure the disease. In this sense treating mental health issues is no different from treating any medical issue. If you broke your leg, you wouldn’t think “I’m my broken leg.” The same should be true of any diagnosis, mental or physical. It only represents a slice of you and you should not let it loom so large that it obscures everything else you have going on. You are not your diagnosis.