Do I Have a Mental Illness?

In my last post I mentioned the term “mental illness” and it’s been making me uncomfortable since the moment I typed it down.

Mental illness. Am I “mentally ill”? That sounds so terrible. I imagine myself not as the girl sitting in my work hub at 9:30 on a Sunday morning shmoozing with my colleagues, listening to a new playlist from a friend and checking my Facebook, but someone who does strange things, can’t easily communicate with others and can barely scrape by because their mental illness prevents them from functioning normally.


I need to ask my shiny new psychiatrist what she diagnosed me with but I’d think it’s some kind of generalized anxiety disorder or minor to moderate depression but even so I asked my social worker friend if what I have, whatever it is exactly, is a mental illness. She wrote:

Good question. I think whatever is in the DSM is considered a mental illness but there is a spectrum and anxiety is on the lower side, not as severe. Actually there are 2 axis and this is on axis 1 which is less severe.

The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For example, Jerusalem syndrome, “the mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem” is in there.

jerusalem syndrome wikimediaHmmm… Is Jerusalem syndrome axis 1 or 2, I wonder…

Anyway, I have two connected issues with using the term mental illness in regards to myself. First, yes, I suffer and it’s painful what I go through. But I don’t think I compare to people who have full-fledged depression or other mental illnesses which render them heart-breakingly low functioning. So when I use that term, I feel like I’m misrepresenting all those people who are struggling and suffering in more intense ways than I am.

Second, yes, I’m worried about the stigma. Even if technically generalized anxiety disorder (yeah, I’m diagnosing myself until my next appointment with my doctor), is in the DSM, I’m fully functioning and I have a lot of happy, productive times.

There’s another issue I have which is that the moment I write something down, it partially stops being true. It’s like how when we go to the doctor we suddenly don’t have the symptom anymore? Same but with my writing. They say writing is therapeutic but it can’t be that it’s curing me, can it?

No, I don’t think it is, but at the same time, I feel like a fake saying I’m suffering from any mental illness, even axis 1 ones which are less severe.

Point being, let’s take the terminology with a grain of salt, shall we? You’re welcome to weigh in on this if you have thoughts on it.


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