Handling a New Diagnosis

Another day, another diagnosis. I’ve been diagnosed with over half a dozen mental illnesses in my lifetime.  A diagnosis can mean many things. For some, it brings hope because they finally have answers. For others, it can bring up feelings of shame or embarrassment. In my experience, it’s a mixture of both. This was definitely true when I received a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder this week.

Back when I was a patient at Rogers Memorial Hospital, a fair number of my fellow patients had OCD. Before Rogers, I had never been exposed to all the ins and outs of OCD. I knew it was more than cleanliness and order, but beyond that, I wasn’t well versed. As I got to know my fellow residents, more of the interworkings became clear to me. As I watched them learn how to skillfully deal with the disorder, I began to wonder if I had OCD, or at the very least, obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I quickly pushed these thoughts away, not wanting to add another diagnosis to my list of illnesses I have to deal with.

In the months following my stay, these thoughts continued to pester me. I continued to ignore them, and when I was forced to confront any of my compulsions or obsessions, I brushed it off and dismissed it as “oh, I might have tendencies… that’s all.”

Getting a mental illness diagnosis can be scary. The brain is a very vital, but very complicated organ. Because of the stigma surrounding mental health issues, getting diagnosed can stir up feelings of wanting to hide or keep quiet about it. I remember the first diagnosis I every received. I was living with my best friend’s family at the time, and when her mom asked me how my therapy appointment went, I couldn’t even look her in the eye. I was crying, and so scared that they were going to treat me differently or ask me to move out. I felt like I belonged locked away in an insane asylum because I was officially the girl with a personality disorder. When I finally mustered up the courage to tell her, she reacted in the best way possible. She said, “Okay. Thank you for telling me. I’m not judging you. I’m not reacting in shock. We’re not going to kick you out. We’re still okay with you being around our daughter. It’s okay.” That had a profound impact on me. It made me realize that maybe a diagnosis wasn’t the end of the world, but the opportunity to begin a new one. One where I had a better quality of life.

It took finding our that a family member has OCD to make me seriously look at my hunches. I brought it up to my therapist, and she gave me an OCD screening. Screenings look different for every illness, and there are multiple ways to diagnose someone. This screening was 15 pages of questions asking me to rate how much different thoughts and activities were problems for me. It was exhausting to fill out and took me many days to complete. My OCD deals less with cleanliness and order, and more with worrying about harm to myself and others, perfectionism and the everyday thoughts I have. This time around with a new diagnosis, I have a positive attitude and look to the future with hope. Because the actual diagnosis doesn’t change anything going on with me mentally, it just better explains my brain and allows me to get the help I need to build a better life for myself.

With proper medication and therapy, OCD can be managed and allow the patient to go about a more normal life. Lucky for me, I have actually gone through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a wonderful therapy that helps patients understand their thoughts and feelings that influence behavior. I have a meeting with my psychiatrist next week to discuss medication. I have wonderful support and I’m feeling okay with the diagnosis. I still feel that shame and fear, but I know I’ll make it through.

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