I’ll admit I silently balked at the idea when it was first put before me: that at an event I volunteered at for ‘special families’ (those affected by disability), each family member, on arrival, would receive a sticky label – ‘child’, ‘sibling’ or ‘parent/carer’. My philosophy is generally, to take every child I come across on an individual basis, and to respond accordingly. You just can’t pigeon-hole children like that.
But, actually, it was useful. Most of the families who attended had a member somewhere on the autistic spectrum and, among the children, it was good to know, and not immediately obvious in some cases, who would probably benefit from dedicated individual attention, and who would not necessarily respond to me in a way commensurate with their age.
I listened to mothers (it was mothers, not parents) speak with each other about their fight for diagnosis – how many specialists they had been to see before receiving one, after their child had struggled for a few years at school and – seeing how much solidarity there was among these adults who all been through a similar, tough process – I reflected on my own “invisible disability” label.
I saw how, contrary to what I would normally believe, it has been massively helpful. Because I now do have an ‘official diagnosis’ on the report from my review meeting: F60 – emotionally unstable personality disorder.
It has helped because the diagnosis of depression did not make sense: yes, I oftentimes meet the criteria for severe depression, but I don’t for very long – I have days in-between down periods, when I can get ‘out of my head’ and genuinely enjoy doing something. And the anti-depressants have never done more than taken the edge off raw emotion, even when I’ve been in counselling.
It has helped because I have seen patterns in my thoughts and emotional reactions that are common to those with this diagnosis. Weird reactions, shameful ones, that I now know are characteristic of this illness – and which aren’t me being strange – or wilfully sinful – but are treatable symptoms that I can work on. I feel less like I am totally to blame for being this way. Not that I can abscond responsibility for my thoughts, emotion, or behaviour, or for changing them, but that they are understandable, in the context of mental illness. That it is not my fault that I react this way, but the result of experience and circumstance.
Of course, intellectual understanding will only take me so far – the real work I have to do is emotional – this still feels like my fault, even though I am told, and at some level, know, it is not. But I feel less alone this way. More understood by people around me. Now the mental illness has been labeled, I am less scared of it. I’ve been offered a way forward – a way through it.
Although there are many things about this particular label I abhor, and although I still whole-heartily believe everyone with any given label is unique, I am thankful for all that it has done in encouraging me to accept what is happening. I’m by no means there yet, but the label has helped me on my way.