Experience Reflection Window

What is it like being given a diagnosis?

It can hurt. I feel it still. But the pain of being diagnosed or ‘labelled’ or ‘branded’ or ‘marked’ has faded with the passing of time. This has not occurred by default but mainly by my choice and is the result of constant, hard work on myself. It involves a kind of ‘coming out of the closet.’ Having said that, I emphasise that a greater comfort with the diagnosis cannot happen quickly or all of a sudden. The human being is complex and, in certain things, often this organism changes extremely slowly. And such has been the case with me. But there is a great, practical way to accelerate the process of change: it is to challenge yourself. Because I eventually saw my discomfort with the diagnoses of schizophrenia and depression as inconsistent and problematic, I started challenging myself to break down that discomfort. So, the practical way that I found was . . . to tell other people about what I have. I would not have achieved my current level of acceptance only by self-talk. No, I had to externalise and communicate the fact that ‘I have schizophrenia and depression.’ Now (hold your horses), there are ways and ways of doing that; and remember that self-acceptance does not come easily or quickly. I would advise you to work yourself outwards. That is, to start the conversation with your closest friend, and work outwards from there: friends . . . family . . . church community . . . sporting and work colleagues. There is no rush whatsoever: you will need to pace yourself; but you can chip away at your inhibition. Please note that I am not being prescriptive: the process will require some individual discernment and give-and-take and will look different for everyone. Because I have chosen to supercharge the process of outing myself, well . . . here I am, online. I have usually been an all-in kind of person. After you have decided that opening-up about your illness has value, then it is your right foot on the accelerator pedal—which fortunately is very close to the brake pedal! Let me leave you with the following image: if a doctor diagnosed me with something today, I am still me; and I am much the same me as I was yesterday. But what has changed is that I know myself better: an expert in the field has told me about myself. This may be painful, but it can be a ‘wholesome’ pain; because a diagnosis is like a key that opens the door to treatment and getting better.

By Stephen Plustwik

'In the face of all my foes I am a reproach, an object of scorn to my neighbours and of fear to my friends. Those who see me in the street run far away from me. I am like a dead man, forgotten in men's hearts, like a thing thrown away.'—Psalm 31[30]:12–13 (Grail).