Gianna Kali has reposted a 2007 opinion piece today by Furious Seasons' Phillip Dawdy where she takes eloquent issue with his opinion that accepting your diagnosis is mandatory on the road to recovery. This idea of accepting your diagnosis is widespread and the thinking is that you are delusional if you do not. Today, many people proudly proclaim that they are their diagnosis. Coincidentally, more and more people have that diagnosis. Wearing your diagnosis goes beyond what the Dawdy piece is saying, but it's a slippery slope. Accepting can become defining.
In mental health, pardon my ignorance, but what exactly is the basis of the diagnosis? There is no test for schizophrenia, no gene, and no drug fixes the problem, so what is it exactly that is being medically diagnosed?
A mental health diagnosis is not a broken leg. A mental health diagnosis is a sliding opinion underpinned by dubious science.
After you've accepted this diagnosis, then what? Will you be open to accepting any label that someone else sticks on you? I could have spent years urging my son to accept his diagnosis, but that would have done more harm than good, in my opinion. In fact, at the beginning my husband and I did urge my son to accept his diagnosis, because this is what the doctors told us Chris must do. In another post I wrote that accepting your diagnosis when you are labeled schizophrenic is akin to a teacher telling you that you are stupid, but if you want to learn you'd better first accept the fact that you're stupid. Any learning you manage to accomplish after that will be the result of an heroic struggle at the expense of your own stupidity.
Robert Whitaker's book has pointed out the pitfalls of becoming your diagnosis: Lifelong patienthood.
If I had it to do all over again, I would never have told a soul that Chris had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. I don't know how I would have fudged this the past six years when anyone could see he had a problem, but I was operating under the delusion that there is no stigma in being mentally ill and the first thing to do is to accept your diagnosis. I also felt that if I told people, I could learn things from them that would help. In fact, most people haven't a clue, and I had to do all my own discovery.
It hit home again at lunch today. My friend wanted to know how Chris was doing as she had seen him on one occasion last year when he was on a day pass from the psych hospital. Ian and I had foolishly decided to take him to a special interest group lecture and he spent the time being rather unusual. (Word to the wise. If your relative is out of the psych hospital on a day pass, best stay home.) My friend expressed surprised that (a) Chris actually can read books and (b) that he was able to travel around freely by train. Like most people, she has no clue what a diagnosis of schizophrenia entails, but like most people, she thinks it's lifelong and handicapping. My father went to his grave feeling sorry for the burden that he felt I was going to have to carry the rest of my life. He also had no experience with mental illness beyond what the doctors say about the awful label of schizophrenia. My trying to convince my father otherwise was an exercise in his humoring me. He felt I was putting the best possible polish on a bad situation with my talk of Chris eventually leading a productive, interesting life.
It would be far better to reject the idea of accepting your diagnosis, but be willing to admit, as the Dawdy article puts in a more secondary light, that what you really have is a "problem." That's a diagnosis you can overcome.
Readers may ask, so why is it then that you put schizophrenia front and center in your blog if you reject the label? The answer is so that other people can find their way after they've been handed this label.