I am Essie. I struggle with the symptoms of depression, broad spectrum generalised anxiety, and chronic fatigue. These labels have gone a long way to explaining what it’s like to live in this particular meat sack of mine. I’ve sort of collected them over time and they’ve stuck to me because they give me a reliable shorthand for when I need to talk about my health. They help doctors, psychologists, family, and friends understand me.
The problem with evolving diagnoses is that your labels keep accruing and changing. You shed some as you find more accurate ones. You gain extras when one thing develops into another.
About a year ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD (the real kind with flashbacks, and sensory triggers, not the “OMG, I totally have PTSD from that terribly embarrassing thing that happened to me/ super scary movie I saw/ boxing day shopping trip” kind). My psychologist made the connection that I display all the relevant symptoms, and made the diagnosis. The prolonged trauma that made me this way happened when I was a child. The symptoms have been part of me for the vast majority of my life. Only the label was new.
More recently, my psychologist voiced a suspicion that I also have Bipolar II (I’ve since learned that Bipolar II and PTSD often occur together). She’s been working with me for a year, and after observing my mood and behaviour over this time, suggested I go to my GP to discuss this thought further. I did so.
My GP did a couple of preliminary psychometric tests, agreed with my psychologist, and referred me to a psychiatrist. She conducted further tests which confirmed the diagnosis.
And I acquired yet another label.
This particular one earned me a new prescription (shake me sometime – I rattle), as well as a more refined way to understand myself, and approach treatment.
It also left me worried about how this latest label would be perceived by those around me. When does accruing new diagnoses stop being illuminating, and start looking like a morbid, self-indulgent hobby? When do people start rolling their eyes and saying “gawd, what’s wrong with Essie this week?”
Perhaps even more worryingly, it’s made me confused about how I see myself. It’s hard to hold onto a consistent, stable concept of yourself, a grounded notion of who you are over time, when you’re regularly incorporating these new diagnoses and their concomitant baggage.
I tried to draw the way I understand these ideas, and how they fit together for me. I don’t know how successful the outcome was, but it was part of the process of attempting to incorporate this new knowledge into a stable, and integrated concept of who I am, and how I function.
And while I’m sorting through this, I’m constantly reminding myself that all my labels describe parts of me, but they don’t define me.
I am working towards being in a place where they lie lightly and usefully on me. On my surface, where labels belong. And I have to remember that I am more than surface. I’m a complex person with a unique mind and an interesting history.
I am Essie.