Is a mental health diagnosis a modern day equivalent of a straight jacket? I began to wonder this after a few conversations recently where the subject has come around to the different way people react to a person once they discover a diagnosis of mental illness. I have experienced this myself although of course I have no way of proving this and experience has taught me that if you voice concerns of discrimination those concerns have a tendency to become a ‘symptom’! I lost my career as a result of my mental health, I have been told how well I interview and I know at times I have been the most qualified candidate however I have witnessed first hand the look in their eyes when I have truthfully explained the gaps in my CV. Some look with fear and I could almost hear the horror movie music and see the axe they imagined me to carry, others look more kindly but it is the pity in their eyes which hurt most as their eyes confirm that they feel there is no hope left for me now. I have lost friends to my mental health, mainly due to lack of comprehension rather than malice though which I try to be compassionate and understand. My diagnosis is on all letters for me to see ‘Recurrent Severe Depressive Disorder’, after my last admission to hospital the discharge letter stated that he was fairly sure I sat on the bipolar spectrum somewhere and that this required further investigation in the community. Further investigation in the community however would require services that are not stretched beyond belief (a rant for another day) and a consultant with greater interest in my life than in his own ego (a rant for another place for the sake of professionalism/my career!) . I see how society responds to different diagnosis, how it ostracises people and probably makes some people act to the role society expects of them. I know deep down that ‘probably on the bipolar spectrum’ is correct, I been told by a few people that how my behaviour that has been viewed at times by others is sufficiently altered to warrant that diagnosis… I intend to avoid this for as long as possible though 😉 I know that depressive episodes are the most problematic aspect of my mental well being but that every couple of years I experience weeks on end of feeling fantastic and full of energy, that I can go several weeks sleeping only every three or four nights and yet not feeling tired. (Insomnia is another issue for another blog post some time as even when my mood is level and I am ‘well’ my sleep pattern is something I have an ongoing battle with although when I am well it leaves me naturally very tired!) I see the exasperation in the face of friends when they look at me with pleading in their eyes for me to shut up and I hear my husband telling me to sit still but when I feel like that I am simply irritated by their observations and see it as my special bonus to make up for the depression I have learned to manage over the years. I have done some extravagant things in the past going as far as opening a business, decorating my entire home within a couple of days and even nearly getting married once when I have been in a higher mood. It bothers me now more than ever as I am ‘in the system’ and know the likelihood is now that they will medicate me and take away my superpowers. By superpowers I feel I need to confirm I mean my ability to be busy for 20 hours out of 24, baking cakes at 4am and yet experience no fatigue, my own self imposed mental health straight jacket means I can’t allow you to think that I think I actually have got superpowers 😋 I am fortunate enough to have an amazing GP who offers short term medication when I need to catch my mood before it ventures too far in either direction! Other terms which have been mentioned to me by professionals such as OCD I am aware I have but my obsessions and rituals don’t interfere too much with my life, in fact they are an accepted part of my personality within my family and friends who see them as my ‘quirks’ so I’m ok to live with them. Upon meeting and explaining to a new psychiatrist my fears of dying by my own hands given the lapses in my ‘care’ in the past he commented that it was a comment consistent with ‘psychological issues within my personality which were likely caused by having my trust betrayed in the worst way possible as a child’ which is something he had read in my notes, however he did follow this up with confirmation that I didn’t meet any of the other symptoms of a personality disorder. This was the first time I had met this consultant and based on something which happened to me during my formative years and that one comment he had taken out of context he had jumped to a hugely inaccurate conclusion and toward a certain diagnosis. I was left wondering why I felt so aggrieved by his statement. After much soul searching where I questioned if I was insulted I realised I wasn’t insulted at all as BPD is a mental illness like any other. I have a friend I met in hospital with severe BPD and have been saddened by her experiences with mental health services at times, all mental illness should be treated with the same compassion. I realised I was fearful. I was afraid of having a label attached to me which meant that people would react to me in a different way. I think I was also a bit annoyed that he hadn’t listened to me when I was trying to explain my fear that I had come so close to completing suicide and that the lack of support I received means that currently as a well person I am afraid of this happening again. I wasn’t threatening him with suicide, why did he not understand when I said I thought I may die by my own hands it was said out of fear. The assumption by some professionals that those who have experienced trauma in their past must have a personality disorder rather than a biological illness is something which irks me. This is not a diagnosis which has ever been mentioned to me before this or since this was said, in fact several people have commented that considering my experiences I am a well adjusted individual with a good level of self awareness. I am a very happy, settled woman and have been for many years. During my late teens and early twenties I led a hectic life; I drank a lot and partied hard, I was rather promiscuous, I was bulimic, these coping mechanisms may not have been the best but they kept me going until I sought help, paid for therapy and made peace with my past. It is now in a box, stored away in my mind and rarely causes me distress. My daughters age and the bombardment in the news of celebrity abusers have made me think of it a bit more recently but that is a whole other blog post for another day as for the best part I’m ‘over it’ I have made my peace with what life has thrown at me, I make the most of every day I have in my future. I have no control over what has happened to me but I do have control over my future. My official diagnosis is still ‘Recurrent Severe depressive disorder’ with OCD tendencies and a likelihood that I may sit on the bipolar spectrum and I am ok with that for the most part. I neither wear my diagnosis as a straight jacket nor as a party frock, it’s who I am and I have no desire to have my mood explored further. I don’t want another label but I do need to know that mental health services will be there to support me if and when I need them or my family need them for me. I am quietly accepting of the fact my hypomanic periods will not remain my personal compensation for the deep depressions I endure as now that I work in mental health there are too many people who recognise changes in me so I accept that my diagnosis may change in the next few years and that’s ok too I guess. I hope I can avoid being labelled any further as it wouldn’t change my life, I manage my mental health very closely and have learned what works for me as an individual. I am not defined by my diagnosis any more than I am by my past experiences though, I am me with a mental illness I am not simply a mental illness.