Being diagnosed with a mental health issue can be overwhelming. There are many questions to be answered, and a host of feelings to contend with. In a way, receiving a diagnosis is like a little death, because there is a part of you that will never be the same. And, as with all deaths, there is a grieving process that we must allow ourselves to go through.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the five stages of grief in her life-changing work on “On Death And Dying,” and these stages occur in any process of accepting a major change in one’s life. They are as follows:
This can’t be happening right now. There has been some kind of mistake. I just need to find another doctor, mine is an idiot!
Why me? This isn’t fair! I’ve been doing everything right. I refuse to deal with this.
I will just stop having negative thoughts, and then everything will be fine. I promise, I will make myself better. Just take away the diagnosis.
This is going to ruin everything. There is no hope. I will never get better.
I am not my diagnosis. I am a full person, who experiences both good and bad days. I am open to receiving help, and although I would not have chosen this diagnosis, I can see how having this issue has taught me to be a stronger person.
Of course, these five emotional states are not the only possible reactions to receiving a diagnosis. One could also be relieved, to finally have a name to the problem, scared, of what it all means, or hopeful, about a possibility of treatment. In fact, there are as many possible reactions to being diagnosed as there are people with diagnoses: which is to say, millions. The key is to allow yourself to have whatever emotions arise, and to try not to judge them. Just notice what you are feeling, and remember to have compassion for yourself in the process.
Next it’s time to educate yourself about your condition. Learn all that you can about what is going on inside of you, again, using a nonjudgmental approach. If looking at terms on the internet raises your anxiety, which, it certainly can, try to find a support group, where you can talk with others who are in your same boat. Just knowing that you are not alone can be a huge relief when dealing with a new set of circumstances.
Depending on your particular diagnosis, there may be additional websites that offer specific instructions, like this one, which offers solutions for the first 100 days following a diagnosis of Autism. Directives like this can be extremely helpful when trying to navigate these new waters.
But, regardless of which diagnosis you have earned, remember two things. You are not alone, and there is help available. For the latter, contact us. We are here for you.