A self-diagnosis can be the first step towards understanding and acceptance
Anxiety and I knew each other well by the time I turned twenty-four. Our relationship had evolved since its early days where anxiety plagued both my mind and my body. Days of nausea and nights of watching the clock were replaced with routines to keep my restless thoughts at bay. I rationalized that this kind of obsessive, fear-driven anxiety was a better alternative to the crippling kind I’d known before. I saw it simply as a new manifestation exempt from explanation, but then one evening that changed.
I had gone to the doctor and found out that I had an infection. It was nothing serious, but it triggered my anxiety in a big way. Afterward, in a moment of panic, I decided that maybe it was time to see a therapist. I’d been on the fence about it for a while and this felt like the push I needed. And so, to distract myself from one source of stress, I decided to focus on another.
During an internet deep dive of mental health services, I came across an article about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Out of curiosity, I started reading and as I did, I was shocked to find that the description of OCD matched my experience almost entirely. It was uncanny how similar the behaviors and thoughts mentioned in the article reflected mine. It felt as though it could have been written about me.
The more I read, the more I began to understand myself. There was suddenly a name for what I was experiencing.
At this realization, I burst into heavy tears. I hadn’t expected to distract myself so successfully from one diagnosis with another. I first thought to myself, “Great, I’m more fucked up than I even knew.” But moments after, I started to feel a sense of peace.
The more I read, the more I began to understand myself. There was suddenly a name for what I was experiencing. The chaos occurring in my brain wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t just me. I was no longer alone.
Despite how eye-opening this experience was, I didn’t tell anyone I thought I had OCD for almost two years. It was a secret that only I knew. After all, I wasn’t sure if telling people I’d diagnosed myself with a mental disorder would make me sound more or less crazy.
I kept the self-diagnosis to myself, in part I think, because I didn’t want it to be taken away from me. Understanding myself through the lens of OCD gave me a clarity I didn’t have before. And with that came a newfound sense of self. But at the same time, I worried that people wouldn’t take my self-diagnosis seriously. Without an official diagnosis, OCD didn’t feel entirely mine to claim. I feared that my experience would be downplayed and misunderstood, and sadly when I did decide to share my self-diagnosis with some, it was.
Last winter, I spoke with a licensed therapist and OCD specialist for the first time. She confirmed what I already knew to be true, and with her stamp of approval, my diagnosis became real. Before speaking with her, I thought receiving third-party validation of my self-diagnosis would be the most significant moment in my journey with OCD. And don’t get me wrong, it was still a big deal. But at the same time, it felt almost anticlimactic.
I thought an official diagnosis would authenticate my experience somehow. Though I also questioned why I felt a need for someone else to confirm my truth. I imagined pumping my fist into the air and shouting, “Ha I was right!” But when the time came, I didn’t feel this sense of victory. I realize now that maybe that was because I had already given myself the validation I needed when I chose to accept my self-diagnosis in the two years before. I didn’t stop to acknowledge how far along the journey I had already come.
However, the story doesn’t end there. Something surprising happened after I received an official diagnosis – I started to wonder if maybe I didn’t have OCD after all. I questioned if I could have unconsciously manipulated my therapist into giving me a diagnosis. Could I have exaggerated my experience as a means of securing the result I desired? Did I deserve to label myself as OCD when others with the disorder were perhaps struggling more than me?
These thoughts made me even more uncertain than I had been before. At times I even felt like a fraud, but I stuck with the therapy and eventually learned that these kinds of questions are OCD talking. My therapist put it best when she showed me a meme of Kermit the Frog saying, “I have OCD,” and OCD responding with, “Do you really though?”
I’m not advocating that a self-diagnosis is an adequate alternative to seeking professional care. Talking with a healthcare provider is the best way to ensure you’re receiving accurate information and prepares you to pursue treatment that’s right for you. But the reality is that receiving a diagnosis is not always an easy process.
I share this story because for me a self-diagnosis empowered me to eventually seek the kind of expert-informed care I needed. It helped me regain some of the confidence that OCD had taken from me. And most importantly, I think, it helped me to know that I wasn’t alone. For more information about OCD visit: iocdf.org/