Struggling to Get a Clear Mental Illness Diagnosis? You’re Not Alone.

The Ability Toolbox is a disabled-owned small business. We use affiliate links, which means we may receive commissions at no added cost to you. Thanks!


When your diagnosis is unclear or not quite understood by mental health professionals, you often feel like an outsider, like you don't belong anywhere.

Over the years, there's been a strong element of binary thought and ensuing identity politics about having or not having a disorder. This is something mental health publications have now picked up on. For example, autism publications don't necessarily require opinions from those formally diagnosed with autism; they also accept those who self-identify. This is because autism is hard to diagnose, being so subjective for each person with it. Feelings of alienation are worsened by major news outlets, seen as authoritative pillars, who jump on the cynicism bandwagon and negate certain illnesses. Such is the case with a spate of recent diagnoses of neurodiversity in women. But polemical journalism doesn't take into account how hard it is to validate all illnesses. 

Illness is often hard to validate 

Misdiagnosis is a recurring theme for many. I have been diagnosed with several different disorders over the years, including Borderline Personality Disorder, major depression, and ADHD. My recent focus has been ADHD. My recent diagnosis is that of latent mild psychosis and irritable depression, with ADHD in the background. I also exhibit signs of autism. I'm now going with self-diagnosis of autism and depression. I'm done. I can't keep searching for definitive hope.

What pacifies me further, is knowing that all psychiatric conditions to date, are “idiopathic” and “intractable.” That's medical lingo for “no known cause” with “no known cure.” Thrust into the world of psychiatry, even those with psychotic illness will tell you they aren't told they “have” a particular disorder, it's said they “might.” That's because psychotic illness can change from one to another. All psychotropic treatments and illnesses to date, are only ever clinical guesswork. That doesn't mean nothing's real, it's indicative of how hard invisible illness is to validate.

I am also a massage therapist. I'm exposed to myriad physical illnesses that are void of the definitiveness they are often imbued with. Fibromyalgia, chronic pain activated via the central nervous system from physical trauma, has no precise onset, cause, or cure. It's believed to be a complex interaction between emotional stimulus and physical pain once an emotionally and physically traumatic experience occurs. I deal with people on a non-stop basis who are suffering immensely due to something that is subjective, can't be substantiated, and is hard to measure. But it's debilitating nevertheless.

The politics of medication 

There's often a suggestion that antipsychotic medication and stronger drugs are perhaps more necessary than, say, antidepressants. This tends to suggest a certain seamlessness with medication and that some will just have to miss out on quality of life. In no way do Lithium or antipsychotics fit like a glove for people with psychosis. If not creating enormous side effects, sometimes these medications don't even work. I know people with ADHD who've tried every medication on the block, to no avail. Thus the urgency to medicate everyone is not justified. While someone might find a relatively good medication, they often go through hundreds before they get to this point.

Prozac is touted as a wonder drug for non-psychotic depression. I started the medication and within a day I found myself screaming, shouting, throwing stuff, and kicking the hell out of a vacuum cleaner. I came off Prozac quickly. In fact, I've had many issues with antidepressants making me feel like I'm a pumped, angry weightlifter on steroids. Cymbalta, which I'm currently on, doesn't have this effect, but it's almost the opposite, where I feel a sense of fragility and weakness. One of the few things I have to go by is that it feels more natural and real. I'm not super hyped or very down. 

At the other end of the spectrum is almost a diametrically opposed problem of over-medicating consumers and over-diagnosis. This leads to conspiracy theories and anti-psychiatry. However, anti-medication might be justified for people who don't need it. I always ask, what about those who do? Being active in the community is a far cry from institutionalization, terrible quality of life, or self-harm. Fear-mongering reportage outlines those who have committed crimes on medication but some have been in terrible circumstances when they needed it. None of the critics are wrong in their stances as not everybody requires medication. But some do.

The whole point of didactic advertising on opioids is because of how potent, yet addictive they are. Voyeuristic glimpses of Elvis's fried banana sandwiches and Judy Garland's on-set antics aren't so funny when you realize their unwitting addiction. It's common knowledge that bodily pain acclimates to analgesics, where sufferers have to apply pain management techniques to cope. It totally depends on the disorder or disease and the medication itself as to how people respond. Managing health conditions is multimodal, complex, and protracted.

Awareness of information overload

Arguments for and against the presence of illnesses and their corresponding management are a trending cultural phenomenon. With the recent resurgence of neurodiversity in the news press and nuanced opinions from every angle, you'd think everybody was right. Despite information Eureka, this is really just information overload writ large. So much so, it is the focus of sociological investigation in Barry Schwarz's 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. Bombarded with a barrage of competing advertising due to an increased prevalence of niche competitors, consumerism has become inundating. An array of choices is merely health advertising designed to ensnare and bamboozle, with every co-competitor wanting a stake in consumer spending. Often those whose illnesses don't fit a label or are overlapping, are subject to feeling like they are on an endless consumerist treadmill.

But if you're feeling alone, bewildered, and confused, don't. There is no such thing as a miracle cure or definitive answer. This sort of advertising plays on the concept of knowing better, creating some sort of ideological paralysis in consumers. Science itself is modeled on a pedagogy of undermining established knowledge. However, when it comes to commercial health, scientific reasoning has become subject to clever marketing, rather than curiosity. Schwartz says it precisely when it comes to allaying prevailing consumer confusion:

“The alternative to maximizing is to be a satisficer. To satisfice is to settle for something that is good enough and not worry about the possibility that there might be something better.”

I write about and work in disability, love animals, innovation, problem solving, unfathomable science, day dreaming and peace for all.

The Ability Toolbox
Register New Account