Mental health problem diagnosis – a rollercoaster of relief and identity crisis

“From our conversation today, I can say you are experiencing anxiety and depression.” – repeatedly said to me for the last two(ish) years

“After speaking with you today, I believe you have BPD.” – December 2018

Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder is not easy.

Firstly, it takes doctors and psychiatrists, poking and prodding at you, through various treatments and medication, before they will reach a conclusion. And then, there’s the impact of being labelled upon your perception of yourself.

My “story” is by no means the unilateral experience of everyone who goes through the system and is diagnosed, but it might help explain the process a bit better to those who haven’t experienced it, or be relatable to those who have.

Anyway, I’d subconsciously known for a long time that I was “different” to others in how I reacted to things, how I perceived the world and myself, and how I lived my day-to-day life and experiences. However, until I was 19, I refused to allow myself to even acknowledge these abnormalities, let alone talk to someone about them properly – I’d tried counselling at secondary school and college, neither had worked.

Then, in first year (I believe it was November/December 2016 – yes, I’m an old and seasoned third year now) one of my housemates became worried about my behaviour and what I was saying about how I felt about myself. After a very very very long conversation – which at one point involved him snatching my phone and calling QM’s Advice & Counselling services – I spent 2017: seeing one of the university councillors (I re-used this service throughout the year), receiving intervention from Harringay crisis team, trying out CBT from ITalk, and going on Citalopram. I eventually met with a psychiatrist, who didn’t get back to me for three months, and then didn’t give me further information about our conversation, other than the fact she was putting me in group therapy – something I’d specifically said I was NOT comfortable with.

So, by now we are at about February/March 2018, at this point I basically gave up on the system – all practitioners and organisations just kept telling me was that I had anxiety and depression (and probably something else), and each would refer me to another department, who would then offer generalised treatment, but then never follow through with it or decide it wasn’t right for me.

Well fast forward to October 2018 and I’d essentially returned to a very dark place, but this time I decided I was going to receive treatment that was right for, and specific to, me. And not just the broad programmes everyone gets sent to *cough* ITalk *cough* – it’s simply impossible that one treatment works for all conditions, imagine giving someone with the flu the same treatment as someone with diabetes?

I also wanted to finally understand what this “something else” was. I can’t be alone in thinking that being given the ‘Anxiety and Depression’ label can sometimes feel like a bit of a cop out – it’s like the doctor just hears the words sad and worried (and not much else), so sticks the diagnosis to your forehead without much consideration. Obviously, there are millions of people who genuinely have these conditions, and struggle greatly with them – I do not mean to diminish this. I am merely saying that for those who maybe have something else, they seem a patchy and ill-fitted diagnosis.

So, back I went to QM’s Advice & Counselling, my long-suffering councillor arranged for me to meet another psychiatrist in the December – I won’t lie I wasn’t optimistic after my previous encounter. Thankfully, I was completely wrong with my scepticism. This doctor seemed to listen to everything I said, not just asking generalised, box-ticking questions, but actually responding to what I was describing. The conversation ended with him telling me I probably have Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder – commonly known as BPD – and that the best course of treatment would be Mentalisation Therapy.

So, at the end of this journey, how did I feel to be properly diagnosed and finally know the best road to stability?

Although at the time I was frustrated that it had taken two years to be told simply what was “wrong” with me and what the right treatment was (let alone actually accessing it), I now understand that I’d rather to go through these hoops to get the right diagnosis, than be given the wrong one, after just one meeting, with one professional. Plus, two years is nothing, a study by MHFA England concluded that some people wait up to a decade!

Importantly, in many ways, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I could finally say ‘ok this is me, now I can move forward and learn to deal with, and accept, my situation.’  

This whole experience wasn’t me chasing a more “interesting or exciting” diagnosis than A+D, just they’d never seemed to paint the entire picture (coupled with the ominous words from the various professionals). By receiving this label, I could understand myself better, I could research the disorder, read other’s experiences with BPD and relate to them, and I could receive treatment specific to my problems.

Nevertheless, of course labelling has drawbacks.  

Hearing the words ‘Personality Disorder’ shocked and worried me that I was truly “insane” – yes, I sometimes still fall into the prejudices and stereotypes, I’m only human. In addition, I was also afraid that the friends and loved ones who had accepted me having A+D would now shun me. If I was freaked out by the disorder, how could they possibly not be?

By contrast, I had perceived my initial diagnosis of A+D as kinda normal. I was still scared how people would react, but that was more down to me not wanting to admit I was struggling, rather than due to the diagnosis. I mean A+D are the ones we see discussed predominantly in the media, by celebrities, and in the leaflets given by GPs.   

How on earth could I accept this new label that no one really talks about, let alone understands?

Moreover, was this me now? No longer was I suffering with mental health problems that may, one day, go away, instead I had a disorder which I would likely live with for the rest of my life. Were we one and the same? My black dog and I forever entwined? Although I could, in time, learn to live with it, I’d probably always have it exist within me.

I’m still not fully at peace with my diagnosis, in fact I’m too anxious to tell my GP. This means I am still not getting the correct treatment – ridiculous right? I’ve waited so long to find out more, and now that I have, I’m crippled by the fear of saying it aloud and actually accepting the reality.

Being diagnosed is a real Catch-22. On the one hand, you can start the process of accepting and understanding your feelings, as well as being able to access the correct treatment. However, on the other hand, you can feel boxed in by your label, and almost too scared to use it to get the necessary help.  

 I know I should practise what I preach, but what’s my advice for resolving this conflict? Try to remember that this label does not define you, it’s just some words that signpost professionals to the appropriate treatment or medication for you. It’s like needing to have asthmatic on your form to get an inhaler. 

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