How to find the positive in your mental health diagnosis

I still very vividly remember when I first realised that I had anxiety. Partly because of the way I realised, but mostly because when I did realise/had it pointed out to me by my gorgeous Mum, it was one of those, “Umm… Duh Miranda!”-moments, and I kind of felt really silly because of course I had anxiety!

At least, that’s the way I felt at the time.

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The thing is, it doesn’t matter what disorder you may be diagnosed with, every one of us will experience that disorder in a different way. There are common symptoms for each disorder; you may experience them all, or perhaps only one. Sometimes, you may find that the way that disorder presents for you doesn’t fit the “textbook” definition, but that doesn’t mean that your experience is any less significant.

When I realised I had anxiety, I was in the middle of studying my nutritional medicine degree. Part of this course is a very thorough teaching of disease processes, which gets repeated when we are taught how each nutrients relates to these disorders, so the symptom profile of anxiety was something I was quite familiar with, but to be honest, it wasn’t until my diagnosis that I even understood what anxiety was; something about the definition just didn’t make sense to me.

I was on the phone to my Mum when it all clicked. We were talking about a small wedding I had just been to with a very close-knit group of friends of my then-partner. I had recently been diagnosed with depression, and my Aunty was just weeks from passing away, so understandably, I was feeling pretty fragile.

That particular group of friends, for whatever reason, really triggered me. I’d stress to the point of absolute rage (yes, rage) trying to think of what to wear if I knew I’d be seeing them, and question everything I’d say and do around them because I liked them, and I wanted them to think that I was as funny, witty, stylish and intelligent as they were. Mostly, they were harmless – lovely, even. But even though I’d known them for years, any negative thing they said or did towards me (even if they unknowingly did it with their body language) cut me to my very core. I’d criticise myself into a deep teary pit of dispair, and even say evil things about them because of the way I’d perceived that they made me feel.

Looking back on it now, and from the outside, it is easy to say, “who cares what they think?”. But in the middle of those spiraling thought patterns, I couldn’t contemplate how I could possibly not feel hurt by their words or actions.

It was during this wedding , watching the bride walk down the aisle, that I felt a feeling that I now would describe as panic; my breathing sped up, as did my heart in the presence of these friends. Superficial things played on my mind, “They could at least say I look nice”, and I started pulling at the skin on my hands to calm myself.

“That’s anxiety” my Mum told me, after I’d almost put myself into another panic describing the event to her over the phone.

Anxiety, I thought….. then suddenly it all made sense – I have Anxiety.

So many of my behaviours, my feelings, my thought patterns, my reactions and my anguish over the years, they weren’t just me being weak, or not having a great childhood, they were my anxiety – I felt like I understood the world in a way I never had before and it was so liberating!

Maybe you can relate to my story, or maybe your experience of anxiety is a completely different picture to mine. The point is that even though you don’t necessarily fit the “textbook definition” of a disorder, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find the support and treatment that you need.

If you feel like something isn’t right, you’re reacting to things in a way that you never used to, or in a way that you don’t feel is right, it’s a good idea to have a chat to your doctor. Find one that you trust and open up to them about how you are feeling. At the very least, they can refer you to a counselor to help you manage your stress, or give you a diagnosis that helps you understand why you’ve been feeling the way that you do.

We are often so bogged down by the stigma of a mental health diagnosis that we let it become a hindrance to our lives. But all a diagnosis is, is a way to describe what is going on for you in one or two words. It doesn’t mean you are less of a person. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with who you are. It doesn’t mean that you will feel this way for the rest of your life. It doesn’t even mean that you will eventually experience all of the symptoms usually associated with the diagnosis.

A diagnosis is like a key to unlock what is going on for you, and often provides resources to help you manage or improve it. It’s the first step to understanding yourself better and providing yourself with the tools you need to get through the inevitable shitty things in life.

So don’t let your diagnosis define you.

Take it in.

Understand how it affects you.

Find what makes you feel better.

Make mistakes.

Forgive yourself.

And try, try again.

That’s when you will find your strength, and the liberation in your diagnosis.

For more tips like this one, come to my next workshop, 24th October 2015

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