Please note: I wrote this post for the first ever Blog Carnival of Mental Health. The topic is diagnosis.
So, as many of you know, WordPress allows me to see what people search for to find this blog. As of late, I’ve had some alarming searches, namely–“is social anxiety real” and “is cyclothymia real.”
I guess it’s good that people are questioning their inner experiences, but I’d like to know to what end? Labels are dangerous. It’s very dangerous to define yourself by a set of labels (or diagnoses) because you limit yourself. For example, if you say, “I have social anxiety, so I should be acting a certain way,” you can literally limit yourself to those courses of action. I also believe that the pharmaceutical companies profit greatly on these labels. If they can make us believe we have something wrong with us (i.e., a particular diagnosis), when in fact there’s not, then they can profit at our expense.
I think it’s easy to forget that there is a big difference between experiencing some anxiety during social experiences and having Social Anxiety Disorder (more on this here).
However, diagnoses can also be good, namely because they allow you to get the treatment you need. If you don’t understand your inner experiences, it’s hard to get treatment. When I finally sought out professional help, I felt greatly empowered. I took back some control from my anxiety, but I also had to take responsibility for my well-being. In other words, I had to do the work inside of therapy and out, to learn strategies on how to manage my social anxiety.
In a sense, the people who conducted those searchers are right–labels aren’t real. They’re only the tip of the iceberg. When we label things (without looking deeper), we ignore the essence. We ignore what’s really going on. I think it’s good to question your labels and diagnoses, as long as you are still addressing your inner experiences–because those are real, without a doubt.
If you deny the way you feel, you only strengthen the negative emotions, in my opinion. You must learn to accept.
As for me, I’ve been suffering with social anxiety since high school. It took me a long time to figure out though what was going on. I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough and needed a stronger will to get through social situations. I’ve since found out that only makes the anxiety worse. Anyway, I was officially diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder in the Fall of 2008, and I was just diagnosed with Cyclothymia this past August. In both instances, I felt relieved, because I could finally explain what was going on inside of me–and start getting the treatment I needed.
EDIT: All the posts on the Blog Carnival can be found here
I believe like you that labels can be good for diagnoses, but, you do not want to focus completely on them.
When I heard the words, “social phobia”, “a-gor-a-phobia” (never can remember how to spell :)) and things of this nature, I began to focus only on them, then I heard the words about my physical illnesses and got so wrapped on it, so I try to focus on things like talking about things in therapy, getting myself better but not allowing it to become my life and consume me.
I think you have such good balance in your life and enjoy reading your blog to such a great extent! You make me ask myself those hard questions.
Ha! I’ve never really thought I’ve had great balance – but thanks! 🙂 Yeah, I used to be really caught up in my diagnoses. I remember when I was first seeing my therapist I used to pretty much beg him to tell me if he diagnosed me with Social Anxiety Disorder or Avoidant Personality Disorder. He never told me, thankfully. But I have come a long way. The differences between them are minimal, treatment wise, but they are huge in my mind.
Anyway, thanks for reading! 🙂
Also I did not realize what I was suffering from until around the age of 17 when in high school, you help bring attention to these conditions, I think you may help people question, “hey maybe it is more than just simple nervousness”, everyone use to say, “oh, everyone gets nervous”, it was more than that.
I hope so too. There’s nothing more frustrating when you’re told that everybody experiences nervousness (so you should just get over, it in other words) and there’s nothing more painful when you know you have more going on than simple nervousness, yet someone tells you otherwise.
Blog carnival sounds like fun. Great post too. I might have to come up with something.
Thanks! 🙂 Yeah, I think the deadline to post was a few days ago for the Blog Carnival, but you may be able to still get a submission in.
I recently had a conversation with my therapist about “labels” and to be careful about them… in fact – you couldn’t have summed up our conversation any better! 🙂 Great post.
Thanks! Yeah, my therapist tends to remind me about the dangers every time I limit myself to my diagnosis in anyway, like whenever I say I can’t do something ..
True, pharmaceutical companies do want to make profit off of us. “Try Celexa today, if you experience anxiety or have Social Anxiety Disorder”. Medication is a billion-dollar industry, Psychiatrists get paid more for prescribing medications, not only by their employers but pharmaceutical companies, probably…
But some medications do work, as long as insurance pays for it I don’t care. Good post man…
This Ativan ad from the ’70s really ticks me off: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/49/AtivanAd.jpg
It’s so vague- Ativan can solve any problem!
Labels can be freeing, but they can also be restrictive. We have to remember that we are not our diagnoses, they are a part of us, but no more. And we also have to remember that psychology is somewhat of an art, and diagnoses can be incorrect (my son was diagnosed with a personality disorder at age 16, which was later removed). I wish there was a blood test or a CT scan that could diagnose mental disorders the way they can diagnose physical disorders. Maybe one day. My t says he doesn’t like labels, but at a session a couple of weeks ago he mentioned my “body dysmorphic disorder.” Huh? I don’t have that!
Great points! Sometimes I truly believe that I am my anxiety, because I’ve been suffering from social anxiety for so long. It’s hard to separate myself from my anxiety. I also agree with you on finding more objective ways to diagnose mental disorders. When my pdoc diagnosed me with Social Anxiety Disorder, he pulled out the DSM in front of me and we went thought it line by line, checking off each criteria. The problem is, though, that I’d probably fit many different disorders like that. The inner experience simply cannot be adequately defined by the DSM.
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When I first got my diagnosis, agoraphobia, I went crazy 🙂 trying to figure it out. I hadn’t heard of it before and couldn’t believe that I had actually had something like this even though my experience of it is very real. It was kind of a weird place to be in. I did a lot of searching on the web and was amazed by the info out there. It was also extremely helpful to me to read about other people’s experiences. I didn’t feel so alone in it.
Yeah, I agree- knowing that there are others out there, who experience the same things is really helpful. I felt so alone for a long time, thinking that no one else feels the way I do. So when I read about others who suffer from social anxiety on the Internet and even met a few, I felt a lot better.