Tuesday, April 6, 2010

True Confessions: Is it possible?

Yesterday over at Heal My PTSD Michele posted a confession. She boldly stepped up and addressed what many don't want to look at; the labels and stigma associated with mental health issues.

One comment Michele had was this..."Alas, we don’t always get to choose our labels. We do, however, get to choose how we wear them."

Click HERE to read the entire post and related comments.

This was the beginning of a lively discussion about the label of PTSD and mental illness....below is one of the comments I left on this post:

What a wonderful discussion! So many varied views, opinions and perspectives! It is so wonderful to know that many, like you Marie, are finding therapists who know how to diagnose and treat PTSd as what it is - a psychological injury to be healed rather than an “illness” that has no cure.

And I totally agree that there are as many views and perspectives on PTSd and “mental illness” as there are people who wear that badge of honor.

Truth is though - that while PTSd is beginning to finally be recognized as that “injury” vs organic or biological “illness” - the stigma found in society regarding mental health issues in general is, as we all know, very real and extremely limiting and painful to those who face this discrimination every day by family, friends, neighbors, employers and yes - physicians and therapists as we are told that it is not possible to heal this “injury” and must learn to “manage” this “illness” instead of being guided in how to “live” beyond it….and in spite of it.

Personally - I believe that the “symptoms” of however you want to label this thing - can be used to begin to create a path - a map - out of the jungle. “This is where I’m at and THIS is where I want to be; now how am I going to get there?”

I also believe that we as “survivors of horrible things” need to be honored. Our experiences need to be validated. To do less is demeaning and disrespectful.

I also have the understanding of having hung on to my “diagnosis” and other labels related to mental health issues was perhaps a way for me to find that validation in some form, to have those life events, my experiences, my feelings, thoughts validated. To let go of “diagnosis” and “symptoms” and “managing” was scary. It was that place where I stepped to the edge of the cliff and kept going, believing I would find my way regardless of what the professionals said.

I think it is possible to both have our experiences validated and become a whole person. In other words, I have had cancer but I don’t define myself as a cancer survivor. I am a person who had cancer, did the treatment, had the surgery.

I still do rehabilitation exercises for the many surgeries even 10 years later and live with chronic pain from those surgeries and reconstructions - but this is not what my focus or conversation is each day. I don’t define myself as a “cancer survivor” nor do I join support groups that years later ruminate and focus on how horrible it is to have had and survived cancer. To do so steals my energy and limits my ability to live a full life because my focus would be on what “was” (the past) vs. what “is” (my potential).

So yes - I believe that we can have our experiences validated AND I believe that we can use whatever diagnosis we have been given to begin to find our way out of instead of living in the nightmare of past traumas (and other "mental health" issues). And then - we can model this to the world and say “it is possible to heal”…follow me.

Q: So, I'm curious. How do YOU view the labels that come with mental health issues? And - do you believe it is possible to USE these labels to find healing and wholeness and why do you believe this?


amy said...

I have to say (and maybe it's just because of the timing of my trauma--I was five and am now dealing and I am 29) that I have never felt like a "victim". The word implies damage done to an already "well" or "normal" person. Victim is a word used by those whose loved ones have been, well, in fact, damaged. Damaged goods? Absolutely not. Just different. We're made of a different kind of toughness that we have to learn how to control when it (PTSD) hits us full-throttle. We're given disorders and names names names. Books meant to categorize the public, or maybe just books meant to validate us? Does a label validate us in all our confusion and at the same time hinder us by our peers. No, the book doesn't validate us, what validates us is each other, first and foremost. People who don't have a mental illness/disorder fear it. We have the urge to prove to them that because of it, we are tougher than steel, and HAVE TO have the power to learn ourselves inside out. We have no choice, once again, but to face the trauma and the label. And that strengthens us in ways others couldn't imagine. But now we are armed externally, not just internally. We "wear" these labels (I love that) according to our fashion. And my fashion is to know myself, wear it (thus validating MYSELF for once), and living MY LIFE--A GOOD LIFE. The label is just a helper to the outsiders looking in, but it also askews their perception of our strength. We don't have to prove it to them but to ourselves that we are bound for a beautiful life, and we'll work our asses off to get it. My label is a little black dress and combat boots.

Susan said...

amy - I absolutely LOVE the way you described your chosen label: a little black dress and combat boots.... that is an awesome way to describe and portray your idea that you get to choose who you are and what your meaning is; a very strong capable person who is very able to create the life you choose for yourself.

I'm glad you stopped by and would like to invite you to come by again sometime! I enjoyed your comment!

Bridgette said...

Thanks so much for your post, and your blog. Millions of Americans suffer from a diagnosed, misdiagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness. Silver Hill Hospital has clinicians trained in evaluation, diagnosis and adult and adolescent psychiatric treatment and provides hope for people who may not have been getting the right care. Talking/blogging about mental illness can be extremely helpful not just for yourself, but for others in need. Keep up the good work.