For some reason, we all like to claim to have diagnoses that we don’t really have—or to diagnose others with them. My husband and I used to say that our two boys were bipolar. Of course, we didn’t really believe they were bipolar—they just changed their moods rapidly and often and for some reason we felt this justified us in saying it. Then I got diagnosed with type II bipolar disorder and we quickly realized that changing moods really isn’t what bipolar is all about. There’s a whole lot more to it. And I don’t think we’ve said our boys had bipolar even once after my diagnosis.
More recently, I used to lament that I must have ADD because I don’t stay focused as well as I’d like. Then someone I love (who actually has ADD) shared an article on Facebook about what it is really like. And it is a far cry from my just having a short attention span. So, even though I always knew I didn’t have ADD, I’ve stopped saying that I do because now I realize just how silly that was.
Having been a repeat offender, I know that there is no malice intended when we claim we or someone else must have bipolar, OCD, ADD, ADHD, anorexia, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, dyslexia, binge eating disorder— and there are so many more than I am listing here. I think we do it to convey that we have a real struggle in our lives. It seems easier, or more impressive to express it by one of these commonly used (but often misunderstood and misrepresented) disorders than to say, “I have a hard time staying focused when I try to read a book.” Everyone knows you don’t actually have ADHD, but you’re explaining that you have a challenge and you want people to know it is significant.
Unfortunately, these statements can be quite hurtful and upsetting to those who truly do deal with those diagnoses.
When someone claims he or she, or someone else they know has bipolar disorder it affects me differently, depending on how I’m feeling. When I’m in a stable place I can see it for what it is—just a careless remark by someone who is lucky enough to not have experienced bipolar up close and personal. But when I’m struggling, it can send me into an endless loop of anxiety and self-doubt. I start to wonder why, if everyone deals with these same symptoms, I can’t just handle them and be “normal” like everyone else. Or, I know that my symptoms are more difficult, but I wonder if everyone else thinks I’m just weak or overly dramatic for not being able to cope all the time. Or, I just feel hurt that someone else thinks that a typical toddler, happy one minute and crying the next, is remotely close to the mental and emotional turmoil I deal with regularly.
When you claim to have a diagnosis that you don’t really understand, it minimizes the difficulty and struggle that people who actually do have the diagnosis deal with all the time. Imagine that you had a serious strain of influenza complete with chills, cough, and a fever of 106 that sent you to the hospital for three days. You come home and mention this to your neighbor and they say, “Oh yeah! I blew my nose 15 times yesterday. I totally have the same thing!”
It’s not the same.
So, please, think twice the next time you think that double checking to see if you locked your front door really qualifies you to say you have OCD. Or saying you’re your friend’s child must have Asperger’s because he likes to line up all of the green cars when he plays at your house. Those of us with genuine diagnoses are all around you, whether you’re aware or not. Avoiding these statements will go a long way towards the effort of removing myths and stigmas surrounding us. And will help us to feel a little less misunderstood and devalued.
The title of this article said there were 10 diagnoses to avoid and I listed the ones I hear most commonly, but really there are more than I’m probably even aware of. The bottom line is this: If you haven’t been diagnosed with it or you don’t know if that other person has been diagnosed with it, then please don’t claim that either of you do!