Why do you want a label?

Sometimes, people dismiss psychiatric and neurological diagnoses as “labels”. This is curious. Conditions pertaining to parts of the body are rarely, if ever, dismissed as such. Since when are stomach cancer, diabetes or high blood pressure ever called labels?

But labels, or, to use the proper term, diagnoses, can be enormously helpful.

Firstly, labels are useful for treatment. If you have Borderline Personality Disorder, but don’t have the official diagnosis, then it’s unlikely you’d be referred for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, and unlikely that you’d get your condition under control. The case is the same for OCD and Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy, depression and cognitive behavioural therapy, and just about every other psychiatric and neurological condition out there. When diagnosed with OCD, therapists taught me more about the condition, and after a while, I knew which thoughts were part of my illness and which thoughts were part of me. I was given the right medication, and with it, managed to get the incessant, intrusive thoughts somewhat under control.

Secondly, labels are helpful on an emotional level. The relief I felt when I was diagnosed with OCD was enormous. I had known for quite a while that I had the condition, but when I was officially bestowed with it by a psychiatrist, quite suddenly, I knew I wasn’t the only one who was plagued by intrusive thoughts and ruminations. Now I can connect with other people who happen to also be autistic, obsessive, compulsive and/or Tourettic, without feeling guilty that I do not have the official paperwork to back up my suspicions.

On a day to day basis, people don’t tend to announce their medical conditions. But online, some wonderful people decide to open up. I don’t have any real-life friends with autism or OCD or Tourette’s. But the fact that I can share similar experiences with people across the globe makes me feel less alone, and that, I would argue, can only be a good thing.

Books, Books, Books

book signage hanging beside white wall

I spend hours in bookshops, browsing the shelves, reading the blurbs, sometimes sitting down and reading whole chapters before placing the book back where it belongs.

I buy books frequently. But not as frequently as I frequent bookshops. That would bankrupt me.

For me, books are a form of therapy.

Some of the most cathartic books I’ve read have tackled the subject of mental illness head on, and I’ve usually read them when I’m coming out of a depression – just when my concentration has decided to saunter back.

When I was nineteen, trapped in the inertia of that stupid illness, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night” wrote how I felt, word for word:

“It was not the thought that I was so unloved that froze me. I had taught myself to do without love.

It was not the thought that God was cruel that froze me. I had taught myself never to expect anything from Him.

What froze me was the fact that I had absolutely no reason to move in any direction. What had made me move through so many dead and pointless years was curiosity.

Now even that had flickered out.

How long I stood frozen there, I cannot say. If I was ever going to move again, someone else was going to have to furnish the reason for moving.

Somebody did.

A policeman watched me for a while, and then he came over to me, and he said, “You alright?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You’ve been standing here a long time,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

“You waiting for somebody?” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Better move on, don’t you think?” he said.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

And I moved on.” 

I read this passage over and over again, amazed that a dead American man knew exactly how I was feeling. In my blackest days, I would find myself anywhere: in a supermarket, in a shop, at work in the pub, and find myself frozen, unable to move, energy sapped out of me entirely. It was exactly like the protagonist in Mother Night. I was experiencing what medics would dryly call “a lack of motivation”, or what I would call a total absence of anything.

In secondary school, we are told to stop saying that we like a book because we can relate to it, or dislike a book because we can’t relate to it. That, apparently, is beside the point. It isn’t academic. It isn’t literary.

I ardently disagree. Seeing your experiences, the best and worst, written down on a page by a person who never knew you, is a wonderful feeling. It’s like someone is reaching out their hand, grasping yours, telling you that you are not alone. It gives you hope.