Learn about your mental health labels

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Everyone is different and so, even when we share the same mental health labels, we’re going to have very different experiences.

Some people with anxiety are outgoing and avoid their feelings by surrounding themselves with others, while some (like me) retreat from social situations because of it.

This doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another. It just means that while we’re talking, reading, listening to how other people deal and heal, we have to remember that their strategies might not work for us. And it also means we might have to listen to a shit tone of voices before we find stories that resonate with us.

Here’s how I’m going about learning more about anxiety, depression and PTSD.

1. Books

As I mentioned last week, I’m challenging myself to read one book per month that has something to do with mental health, whether it’s educational or a personal story. Even when I find a writer who I feel gets me, I move on to a totally different author who’s coming at the problem from a drastically different angle.

2. Podcasts

Besides the podcasts with anxious hosts, I check out podcasts specifically about mental health issues from time to time. I haven’t found one I like enough to subscribe to, but I’ll binge listen for a couple hours to one here and there to see what I can learn.

3. Friends

I try to be as open as possible with my friends and others around me. I’m always surprised by how many people start being more open with me about their own mental health struggles and about how much valuable information is hiding within my friend group.

4. Online communities

From following depressed Instagrammers to joining private Facebook groups for people with anxiety, the internet is a great place to connect with other people who are going through similar struggles. I learn a lot from reading about their lives, but I can also get specific advice just by asking for it.

If you’re looking to grow your online community, check out who I’m following on Instagram and see if any of them are up your alley.

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Usefulness of mental health labels

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There are certainly times when mental health labels aren’t helpful, such as when they get in the way of proper medical care. However, I’m finding them to be useful when it comes to taking care of myself.

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with PTSD, something I was in denial of having. With the label formally slapped on me, I started following the PTSD Alliance of Manitoba group on Facebook and I read some of the articles they post. This led me to an article about PTSD and workaholism, which resonated with me. I tend to work, work, work without taking breaks to eat until I completely burn out, and I especially do this when I’m feeling raw. With the knowledge that this habit is so closely tied to my mental health, I now know when I’m feeling like I want to work on a Friday night, what I probably actually need is a calm, quiet night to sort through my thoughts.

Knowing I have PTSD has also led me to finding the right type of help. During my first neurobiofeedback appointment, I told the therapist I was there for my concussion, but I also have an anxiety disorder, acute persistent depression and PTSD. We’ve now had many discussions about all three over the weeks, including her recommending books and letting me know about current studies.

One that was particularly helpful was research that suggests PTSD should be treated with non-verbal therapies. She told me that because the part of the brain that deals with language shuts down during a traumatic experience, survivors often don’t have the words to talk through what happened, so meditation, animal therapy and yoga are much more effective ways to treat PTSD than having conversations.

Sometimes all the labels make me feel overwhelmed and like too much of a mess to ever have hope of a normal life, but in reality the labels are helping me get what I need to take care of myself and be happy.

What’s your relationship with mental health labels like?

 

What’s up with Meg J Crane?

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I’m switching up the format a bit right now to let you know what I’m up to.

I’ve let you know a bit about a survey I’m doing to see what sorts of things I can do to support creatives who have anxiety, I’m planning a weekly newsletter for creatives who struggle with anxiety and I’m focusing this blog’s content more on what it’s like to be a creative who deals with poor mental health.

Here’s the deal: While I’ve only recently gotten a name for all the issues I deal with, I have had anxiety and depression since I was a child and PTSD since I was a teenager. Through the absolute best and the absolute worst, I’ve always been a writer. Sometimes I’ve also used other mediums to express myself, but even on days when I’m too depressed to pick up a pen, I’m always a creative at heart.

I’ve learned a lot. Through starting to open up about my mental health, I’ve connected with so many other creatives who are dealing with similar feelings. And many of them come to me with questions about how they can improve their life. Rather than keep giving advice and support on a one-to-one basis, I’ve decided it would be most efficient and helpful if I started focusing more of my career on supporting and motivating other creatives with mental health issues. (Which doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t want to still have those one-on-one discussions!)

A huge portion of my life is dedicated to my creative work, my mental health and trying to help other people, so it only feels natural that I finally combine all three.

But I do want to know how best to help people on a bigger scale. Check out my survey to let me know if I’m on the right track with the things I’m thinking about and to leave me some suggestions of your own. You can also send me an email or post a comment here if you’ve got thoughts for future blog topics or want to talk more about products.

And, of course, sign-up for my newsletter if you think it’ll help you. In it, I’m prompting a lot of private convos with my audience and I’m so excited to get started with the first one on July 31.

Are mental health labels helpful?

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It was only a couple of years ago that my doc suggested my many ailments could all be caused by anxiety, and shortly after that the term “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” was used to describe what was going on with my body.

With this diagnosis, I could move forward with a better understanding of what was causing me issues. I went to the Anxiety Disorder Association of Manitoba for help, joined online support groups and did a heck of a lot of reading.

Then, a few months ago, I had a one hour meeting with a psychologist. Based on a multiple choice questionnaire I filled out and a conversation in which she bluntly asked me about being sexually assaulted with two other people in the room awkwardly and silently watching me, she slapped two more labels on me.

“I don’t even know who told you you have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” she said, sounding like she was rolling her eyes, before telling me I have PTSD and persistent acute depression. (My family doc gave me the initial diagnosis, by the way, after years of getting to know me). “You’re focusing a lot on anxiety,” she said, implying there were other issues I should be concerned about. The way she said this, I felt judged. Her tone made me feel like I was monumentally fucking up when it came to taking care of myself.

“Okay. So, what should I be doing differently?”

I’d told her I was cutting back caffeine, doing yoga and meditating, seeing a counsellor, doing cognitive behavioural therapy, and planning to exercise once my concussion was history. Her one suggestion was to go back on meds after the concussion had healed, which I was already planning on doing.

So, in short, I was doing everything right for all three mental health issues, despite focusing too much on my anxiety. I walked away from that appointment laughing because I was more fucked up than I’d thought, but there wasn’t anything for me to do about it.

What was wrong with the appointment with the psychologist wasn’t that she diagnosed me with mental illnesses, it was that she assumed she knew me well enough in that short period of time to diagnose me and pass judgement on how I was dealing with myself. I wondered if she was looking at me as someone fucked up by these conditions rather than an individual person different from everyone else dealing with the same struggles.

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Ad from Trauma and Dissociation.

Everyone has anxiety, sadness and bad memories. They plague me more than people who don’t have an anxiety disorder, depression and PTSD, but that doesn’t really make me that different from anyone else. I just have more intense feelings. When these conditions are used as labels by others, they alienate me.

Through my mental health diagnosis, I’ve realized that self-labeling can be super helpful, as long as we’re the ones in control and we’re putting ourselves in groups.

I’m an anxious, depressed queer femme vegan feminist with PTSD from multiple sexual assaults. With each label I chose, I found a community of people who support that part of my identity. Almost no one knows me in my entirety, but that’s okay because I’m the only one who needs to.

“Freelancer” is another label I adopted that allows me to reach out to communities of people who have similar struggles as I do.

Labels are tricky. While they can be empowering when we give them to ourselves, being prescribed labels has the opposite effect. While poking around to prep for writing this, I found quite a few articles about the dangers of giving patients mental health labels.

Have you had negative experiences after been given a label by a medical professional? What are your thoughts on mental health labels?