Back in 1999 I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I came into the mental health treatment system in crisis. There were a multitude of reasons why but the bottom line was I was hearing for the first time I had a mental illness and I was feeling as if I was being labeled with some kind of curse. Of course years later I came to realize the proper diagnosis was a critical step in the recovery process and though I did not want a stereotypical label I did need the diagnosis.
Now I know there are other types of diseases where “labels” negatively affect the person who is ill, (AIDS is one of those diseases that come to mind) but I can only begin to explain how terrible it feels to get that label. What should have been a time to focus on understanding the diagnosis became a time to come up with all the reasons why it could not be right for me. You see I had to learn how to accept this Bipolar diagnosis and come to terms with the negative affects from becoming a part of a population of people with illnesses that are largely misunderstood by the general population.
I can’t tell you how many times I cried about my diagnosis. The energy I expended resisting having bipolar could have far better been applied to getting well. The insight I gathered over time helped me to peel back the layers of complexity involved in accepting a mental illness diagnosis and subsequently focusing on wellness instead of resisting labels.
When I talk to people today who are recently diagnosed with Bipolar or who may have a family member who has been diagnosed I listen to the unnecessary pain people carry because of the stereotypical labels. I try to reinforce the fact that many mental illnesses have treatments today that help people carry on and live healthy, productive lives. All this followed by I know it’s not easy but a proper diagnosis is the first step toward recovery.
I wish I could get rid of the negative connotations associated with having a mental illness. But in the meantime I’d say focus on the diagnosis and try to forget about the label. One of the keys to successful outcomes is early detection, so the sooner you have a proper diagnosis the quicker you can get well or at the very least learn how to live with the illness.
Labels are harmful but proper diagnosis saves lives!