I had a client recently who found himself in crisis mode. He had been living dangerously close the edge for a couple of years and he finally reached a point of jump or surrender. He had experimented with sexual fantasies involving multiple partners, self medication through alcohol, theft, abuse, lying and many other self-destructive behaviors. He could not maintain a job for longer than three or four months because his mood swings would not allow him stability. He isolated himself from family and friends and essentially shut himself off from the world’s acceptable behaviors. He was a mess in a thousand different ways. So, late one afternoon, he took himself to a hospital because he knew he had finally reached that moment — that very moment where something had to change. He knew that if he didn’t surrender, he would die before the day was over.
When I saw him a few weeks later, after he was released from inpatient care, he was ecstatic. He said, “finally I know who I am! I am bipolar with extreme anxiety and antisocial disorder. I have impulse control issues but the doctors promise that I can recover from all of this if I do what they say.” For this young man, getting this diagnosis was an answer to prayers he didn’t know he needed to pray. His struggles throughout his life were enormous and they crippled everything he tried to do. The relief on his face was enough to say to me that this man was ready to truly treat his disease so he could live the life he was meant to live. And the labels he had been given, while heavy, were labels he would embrace rather than run from.
So why do I tell you about this man (whom, by the way, gave me permission to use his story)? Because we have become a society of labels. Every single day on social media or out with friends I hear at least one person refer to themselves as a label. They are constantly saying they are ADD, OCD, introverted, bipolar, the list goes on and on. We joke about it and make light of it but the truth is, there is nothing funny about having a mental disorder.
Every week I see clients who are clinging to life in ways most of us can never fully understand. Their entire life is often full of chaos and confusion. Many never successfully graduated from high school because they were unable to calm their minds enough to focus. A few have trouble leaving their homes because their anxiety of disorder is so great that they feel their life is literally at risk. One young lady confessed to me that she has never been able to read a book from start to end that longer than the children’s chapter books because her focus is so limited. Without treatment and constant support, these folks experience life in a way most of us cannot fathom. It is debilitating on many levels.
As a clinician, I always cringe when I see these “tests” on social media that claim to diagnosis you. Let me be clear – no ten question test on Facebook that asks you what your favorite animal is or whether you prefer loud music over soft music can diagnose you with a mental disorder. Those tests are good for one thing – making fun of those people who truly suffer from a disorder. Think about it like this, would you say you had cancer without a diagnosis? What about diabetes? Would you ever claim to be a amputee if you had all of your limbs? Of course not. It would be disrespectful and hurtful. But yet, we don’t hesitate to say things like, “I’m convinced I have ADD because I can’t ever get anything finished” or “I like a clean house because I’m OCD.”
The truth is you likely aren’t getting things accomplished because you don’t set priorities well or you have not learned to say ‘no’ and stick with a calendar. That is not ADD or ADHD. I have a girlfriend who was able to sit through the entire Twilight movie franchise in one setting but swears she has ADD. It’s not possible! Folks with untreated ADD cannot sit for 10 hours focusing on one thing. Their minds operate differently and they begin to wonder, thus, losing focus and …well…attention.
So, what is ADD or ADHD? Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are mental disorders often requiring both cognitive behavioral treatment and medication. The criteria to be diagnosed with either of these is multifaceted and very specific. There are four criteria that must be met plus six or more specific criteria in hyperactivity/impulsivity and/or inattention that also must be met.
OCD or Obsessive Control Disorder is another mental disorder that can leave a person feeling debilitated and overwhelmed. Folks with this diagnosis feel that their impulses and obsessions are absolutely true and not, necessarily in their minds. To receive a diagnosis of OCD, the person’s obsession are defined by meeting two specific criteria, their impulses meet two specific criteria plus they must meet an additional four criteria. Just because you like a clean house or neat cabinet does not mean you have OCD. It just means that you like to have things neat and orderly. It’s called ‘being organized’. That’s not a mental disorder.
It’s actually quite difficult to be truly diagnosed with these or any other of the mental disorders and the diagnosis can follow you for years. Health insurance premiums are often impacted and securing a good life insurance policy is very difficult. The reason is that folks with mental disorders are among the leading groups who commit suicide. Why? Because having a mental disorder such as ADD, OCD, bipolar, addiction, depression, anxiety… when untreated or undertreated, they leave the individual feeling worthless and without hope. Their minds are so consumed with the chaos that they see no alternative. And yet, everyday, society makes fun of these groups, belittling their diseases.
I could go on and on about disorders people claim to have because they think it’s funny or maybe even use it as an excuse. The majority of the folks who constantly talk about having this disorder or that disorder do not. If you know someone who constantly talks about his or her labels, they are probably hiding behind insecurities too deep to even recognize. Someone who is secure in who they are and WHOSE they are will not lean on labels. Instead they will see their gifts and weaknesses for what they are, opportunities to grow. Love these folks but don’t encourage the talk. Give them grace but don’t agree with their self labeling. And if it’s you who lives in this way, I invite you to walk in the shoes of my client. How would you feel if your entire life had been like one constant tornado, constantly spinning without any control. You could never hold down a steady job, your family turned their backs on you, and friends rarely came around. You never knew when you would crash or what the destruction would be. You just knew that you were in the vortex and couldn’t get out. Then imagine all of those around you making fun of that. It’s not so funny anymore, is it?
If you want to wear a label, how about wearing the one Jesus Christ gave you when He died on the cross for you? Redeemed. Saved. Loved. Forgiven. Child of God.
But to all who have received him–those who believe in his name–he has given the right to become God’s children … (John 1:12)
Those are labels that we need to be talking about and holding on to with both hands. Just image what this world would look like if we stopped using all other labels but those to describe ourselves and others. When others see you, when they see your social media posts or talk to you in person, do they see a self-diagnosed man or woman who screams of insecurity or do they see a follower of Jesus Christ who is bold and courageous in their faith?