In last week's post Black and White - The Zebra Effect, Kyla brought up a good question on the thought about focusing on the labels that come with "symptoms" of a "diagnosis"...you can read the full comment stream at the original post here.
Q: " ...I do have a question though, regarding what you were saying about symptoms, do you mean it's not good to focus on those? I was just curious what you meant"
A: Hi Kyla! Good question - you've been reading my mind! I was just thinking it was time to post about the subject....I'll do my best to answer you here though to start with...
"Symptoms" can be a double edged sword, I think.
On one hand, when my focus is on only the label of "diagnosis" or "symptom", I'm focussed on doing whatever I have to do to "avoid" "triggering" the "flashbacks", "nightmares", "hyper-vigilance", "depression" and so on - the stuff PTSd is made of:) and often the groundwork for additional mental health and physical diagnosis down the road.
Here, the focus is on the label and "managing" the "symptoms".
In this case, the presumption was there is no solution - so it was vital to be able to recognize what might "trigger" a "symptom" in order to maintain any sense safety and congruency of self. I studied, read and learned all I could about my "diagnosis" and how to recognize the onset of a "symptom".
I was effectively anticipating the onset of the next trigger and an increase in my "symptoms".
But - even with all the knowledge and understanding of "diagnosis" and "symptom" I couldn't make "it" stop; it was as if the "diagnosis" had developed a life of it's own and I took it on as "me".
"Hi; my name is Susan and I have _________(diagnosis)
Or "Hi; my name is Susan and I'm ______________(diagnosis).
I was taught how to "cope" and "manage"; but not to live without these "symptoms" that my life was built around and tormented me day and night.
In this mindset, I learned to do what I could to avoid the "triggers" and "symptoms" that came along with my "diagnosis". I did the best I could to learn to just "live with it", managing the best I could with the limited resources I had found. I was dependent on external resources to manage and cope.
I felt powerless.
Often I could not find relief from the "symptoms" and this is when the negative coping came into play. It was exhausting and draining to live this way and in time I was living with more mental health and physical illness "symptoms" from the unresolved stress response...I was "surviving" day to day...but I was not living the life I wanted for myself.
On the other hand if I'm in a situation and become aware that my body is tense, I feel agitated and on guard - I recognize the signs or indicators and have since learned how to use natural ways to bring down the stress response instead of being swallowed up by it.
In this scenario I'm learning to become aware of my physical, cognitive and emotional response aka "symptoms" of emotional stress and indicators of the emotional distress that we have come to know as "mental illness" and with this insight can choose to utilize healthy coping skills vs the unhealthy coping skills of avoidance aka dissociation, addiction, self harming etc....
I believe using the labels that come with diagnosis and symptoms can either cripple us - or become a tool we can use to consciously create the change we desire for ourselves.
In the past I was focussed on anticipating the symptoms and thus - the conundrum of PTSd - perched, ready to do anything to avoid triggering symptoms that had no end but...
today...these same "symptoms" can guide me down the path to self empowered healing when I view them as a map that will guide my journey.
Thanks for asking Kyla; this was a great question!
PS A final note - I've learned that if I am still "triggered" in a situation - I can use this as an indicator of perhaps I am ready to do some emotional healing related to the issues that come up rather than that of "it's hopeless".
Trusting the process :)