I’ve been through quite a few psychiatrists in my time, looking for what everyone does: a diagnosis of what is wrong with my brain, and how to solve it. We’ll leave the solutions part for another time, and focus here on diagnosis.
My experience with having a mental disorder started as one of confusion. I knew I had a brain that operated very differently than the norm, and I could sense this was in a negative way.
Stepping back for just a bit, not always negative. I’ve always known I’m an intelligent person—and I used that along with my differently-thinking brain to be fairly prolific creatively—music, painting, photography, and such. Even those things I did an a manner different that others plying the same creative endeavors.
But putting the creative—the productive—part of my brain aside, I was (and still am) left with a brain that does not operate correctly. Along the way I also came to understand myself as extremely sensitive—to everything. Sensitivity at its core is sense, which does occupy the brain in at least a figurative manner1. The more that is sensed, observed, and collected in the brain—it does truly become akin to “full.” I’ve always had a brain that has been near full or overfilled with, well, everything.
I have a penchant for the negative. I want to solve problems because I don’t want to have problems—that is paramount. I focus on those things before I focus on the positive—happiness, comfort, and the like. It is important to note that the decision to focus on the negative is not a choice I can say I actively make—and I’ve thought about it a lot.
We’re not at the third-party diagnosis part yet, and that is the first problem. With my brain constantly full, and with the conscious part taking constant notes on2 the negative—but unable to grasp everything it knows it can or should—I am left with an empty condition. An “empty condition,” as I call it, is a situation where one does not have a label that fully explains the existential. I am present in my brain, but it is trying to see colors that don’t exist.
However, there are labels that start to become “close enough,” as it is the human condition to not allow things to be unlabeled. And that self-diagnosis for me was “anxiety.” That made enough sense. Being consumed by the negative portions of what my hyper-sensitivity was filling by brain with caused feelings that could easily be labeled: fear, over-cautiousness, omens, lack of ability to control things around me, and the like. These feelings have a characteristic of feeding on themselves, catching my brain in an infinite loop—a snowball—of growing anxiety. There is no doubt I have anxiety as it is defined, and in the chronic sense. I realized that on my own.
And thus I sought help. For anxiety. Self-diagnosed. Low and behold, that is what I got treated for. No questions asked, really. Ok—questions were asked, ones that merely confirmed what I already knew—I have anxiety. In fact, it has a true, documented, psychological diagnosis: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)3.
I stuck with that for years, even being put on highly addictive medication (though I never needed to go beyond the original dosage, because the medication began to merely treat its own withdrawal symptoms, giving it the illusion of “working.”4) And yes, I self medicated—which is pretty common when anxiety is taking over most of one’s thinking. That situation is far off-topic here.
Nothing was getting any close to better. Anxiety was me. I knew it left and right. It was—well, you can come up with all the metaphors you wish—my friend, the devil on my shoulder, and so on. It was what I knew. Things happened in life, they got processed through my brain, and they got stored as fear.
“Fear” is an all-encompassing word, but it is the crux of my anxiety, and morphed into something slightly different, which we’ll get to in a bit5. When my brain becomes full, it can only know so much. What it does also know is that it doesn’t know everything. And it wants to. It… obsesses… over this. Fear of the unknown must be erased. That fear is anxiety, the need for it to be erased through… compulsion… is where I started to see that maybe GAD was not truly everything I was experiencing in terms of mental illness.
There came a time in my life, where I pretty much cut ties with everything. I moved on to a completely different lifestyle—really, a different lifetime. And for once and for all I was going to solve what was going on in my head. Or, at least, I was not going to trudge on with a diagnosis so generic that it helped me none to have it pinned to me.
This is a big problem for me: diagnoses which shade toward the generic. I am not going to say no one has GAD, or depression, or anger management issues. However, I (still, not being a doctor) tend to think that many people with these diagnoses—especially when they are not getting better—would be best served if doctors looked a little deeper to find something more specific.
That is precisely what I made my physiatrist do. We went through countless medications that targeted anxiety, with nothing doing much to fix it. Knowing there was a possibility of it not being fixed, but steadfast that we could go deeper, I wrote down everything about me and my brain that I could—in succinct fashion.
It was then that my psychiatrist—focusing on some key aspects I didn’t really think as much of (again—brain full) came to the conclusion that along with generalized anxiety disorder I clearly had obsessive-compulsive disorder. I didn’t present many of the typical compulsions that others with OCD do, but I clearly had the obsessive down. Yeah, very much so.
And thus the link was made. My anxiety was almost always formed from my OCD not being addressed at the moment. This is indeed a continuous thing—knowing I had OCD did not solve the anxiety. I was given medication that, for the first time in a very long time, had a direct effect on my brain—it gave me a bit of clearer thinking a lot of the time. For that I am very happy. But the main key is now I am not lost in a generic diagnosis of “anxiety.” I now know that most of my anxiety—which remains more than the average person by far—is caused by my obsessions, the way my compulsions work or do not work, and all of the varied things I’ve written so much about regarding my OCD.
Just knowing the pathways, for me, helps a lot. I can track my anxiety back to something other than just “fear.” As defining something by what is essentially its synonym doesn’t get you too far.
I can now step back from my anxiety and look at it utilizing many characteristics I never before thought of. I begin to “know,” at the very least. And knowing is a tremendous asset for anyone with a mental disorder.
1 This isn’t the place to get into the scientific literal manner of occupying and filling a brain—because we know it doesn’t work like a coffee cup or hard drive. Well, not exactly. We will stick with the figurative. [BACK]
2 And charting, diagramming, and graphing. [BACK]
3 Yes, and of course an acronym. (Sigh!) [BACK]
4 Benzodiazepines. Benzos. Be very, very careful when prescribed these! I am not a doctor, I am not going to tell anyone what medication is or is not good for them. Just, from personal experience, be extra diligent with these as compared to other types of medication. [BACK]
5 It’s in the title of this article, yeah, but let me go with this. [BACK]