I was thinking today about the times I was diagnose with several mental illnesses. First it was just depression and anxiety, then Bipolar II disorder, then the doozy of them all that ended up with my plummeting into my eating disorder: borderline personality disorder.
Out of all the diagnoses Bipolar II and BPD were not ones I wanted to have. I mean no insult to those of you who read my blog on the regular who have these disorders, it is nothing personal or an attack on anyone living with the two disorders.
I remember walking out of my therapists office the day I was diagnosed borderline with my head spinning in a million different directions.
What was borderline?
What was I on the border of?
Does this mean I’m crazy?
Will I end up back in a psychiatric hospital?
In my offense, not that I have to defend how I felt in that moment but I want to give clarity, my then therapist didn’t give me the “it’s not the end of the world” speech or any sign of the fact that things were all going to be ok. None of that happened in that session; instead I was informed to go home and “Google the disorder, and come back and let me know if you think that’s you”. Bullshit right? But I did it, and it only made me feel more out of control. The next few sessions she pointed out every emotional reaction I had to situations that were occurring and gladly told me that it was my borderline personality. She gave no skills to use, but instead directed me to go buy the book I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me.
At this point I still had trust in therapists, and figuring that it was her job to help me, I went out and bought the book. But I couldn’t get past the first two chapters; it was overwhelming and disheartening.
What am I trying to get at? The entire time I saw that therapist after being diagnosed, I was given the impression that I was no longer Jess, I was Borderline Personality Disorder. So, that’s how I lived my life. I soon began seeing myself as that and it took over my entire life. My eating disorder and obsession with/compulsion to exercise got so bad that I’d even skip classes and my internship to go to the gym. If I felt like getting drunk, that’s what I’d do. The friends I had became distant as I pushed them away because I “knew” they didn’t want to associate themselves with a “crazy” person.
That diagnosis became my identity, along with my anorexia (which the lovely psycho-therapist told me I couldn’t possibly have because borderlines are bulimic not anorexic). It took me so long to come to the realization and for myself to believe the fact that yes, I may or may not have this disorder (I was more recently told I do not) but if I do, it’s not who I am. It took me almost 2 years of therapy to believe that I am not my diagnosis.
Every single year, an estimated 57.7 million Americans struggle with some form of mental health issue (NAMI, 2014), so those of us who see ourselves as only that are not alone in the struggle with mental illness.
So if you’re diagnosed with bipolar i or ii, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, borderline personality, PTSD or whatever it is the professionals say you have as according to criterion out of the DSM-V, I hope you know that you are not that illness.
So many times I hear peers who are psychology majors or even those not, refer to someone who has anorexia as “anorexic”, or someone with schizophrenia, “schizophrenic”. I think we as a society and even those of us wanting to be the next psychologists of the world, need to stop referring to an individual as their disorder. Instead of saying “anorexic”, “bipolar”, “schizophrenic”, we need to start saying something along the lines of “so and so who has______”.
We can’t continue to place labels on a persons mental health and refer to them as that. It’s time this changes.
You are not your illness.