I’ve struggled with my mental health since I was a teenager, so for about 17 years. This has included panic attacks, constant worrying, low self-esteem, anxiety induced headaches and periods of depression. I’ve been taking antidepressants for the last six years for anxiety and depression.
I’ve taken various doses depending on what’s going on in my life. I’ve spoken to counsellors who’ve told me to meditate and others who have searched for a massive childhood trauma as an explanation for my angst – but there isn’t one.
There are so many misconceptions and confusing information about mental health conditions. After all of these years I’m still not sure what’s wrong with me. Do I ‘just’ have anxiety and depression? Is that all that’s wrong with me? Shouldn’t I have been able to sort it out by now and be happy?
Every time I read an article about mental health, I wonder is that what I have? I can be quite shy and introverted does that mean I have social anxiety? I put a brave face on things, I’m holding down a full time job and relationships with my partner, friends and family does this mean I have smiling depression? I’m very worried about people abandoning me and have very strong, intense emotions does this mean I have borderline personality disorder?
The confusing information isn’t only to be found online or in reading articles. Medical professionals also seem to be confused. I’ve experienced emotional trauma in the past with some professionals telling me I could benefit from Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR).
Later, the offer of that therapy was reversed and I was told it wasn’t suitable for me. I’ve had one doctor tell me that it’s OK if I take antidepressants long-term and another telling me that I should come off them completely. One doctor told me that I needed to accept that I’m just an emotional person and another tested me for thyroid problems instead of really listening to me and what I was experiencing.
I have never seen a psychologist. I’m not sure if I’ve ever really been given a diagnosis. There has never been a big epiphany moment of ‘dada!’ this is what is wrong with you and it all fitted into place. I have never had that moment.
For me, seeking a diagnosis is a way of finding a reason and an explanation of why I feel the way that I do. Hopefully a diagnosis would also lead to an effective management plan. It would lead to the right combination of medication, therapy and lifestyle. It might even lead to the holy grail of recovery.
I have spent years keeping my mental health a secret. I wonder if a diagnosis would have helped me to embrace my condition and encouraged me to open up earlier. Or perhaps I would have a diagnosis if I’d been more open about how I felt.
But, in this time of austerity and struggling health services is it realistic – or even pragmatic – to expect a diagnosis? Are mental health diagnoses going to become less common? Do we need to just look after our mental health regardless of whether we can give the condition a name? Keeping my mental health a secret made it worse.
I am now trying to embrace my mental health and be open about what I think and the way that I feel. I haven’t had that diagnosis moment but it doesn’t matter. While my mental health is generally fine at the moment I know that I have the tendency to experience anxiety and slip into depression. I’m still working out the best way to live with and manage these conditions, I’m just going to have to do that without a diagnosis.
Lauren Ephithite is a mental health writer and advocate based in Norfolk, UK. She writes about her experiences of anxiety and depression with the aims of increasing awareness and reducing stigma.