After an interesting weekend, I’ve gone back and forth on what to cover this week. A pounding headache seems to have done the trick and while I’ve been nursing the aforementioned headache with peppermint tea and painkillers, I’ve been thinking about The Diagnosis.
Mr. Juniper has had his diagnosis for almost five years. He has been ill for considerably longer. It’s not unusual to hear people speak of it taking years to get the correct diagnosis. It took around an hour for Mr. Juniper to get the correct diagnosis. What took years was finding a good psychiatrist. One who didn’t have harebrained jerk among their qualifications. A good doctor may not know what the correct diagnosis is, but they should know what doesn’t fit and go about finding someone who does know what’s happening.
This shouldn’t come as a great surprise, but up until Mr. Juniper had the diagnosis he has now, he was misdiagnosed. In both physical and mental health, misdiagnosis can be harmful. In some cases it can be dangerous, even life-threatening. Misdiagnosis often leads to the wrong treatment. For mental illnesses (indeed, as with physical illnesses) the wrong medication can be a Very Bad Thing. Mr. Juniper’s misdiagnosis meant he was prescribed medication which contributed significantly to him doing things that were, shall we say, “detrimental” to his general health. This has led to subsequent appalled psychiatrists doing the polite version of “What the fuck?” while going over Mr. Juniper’s history.
A diagnosis doesn’t bring entirely good tidings, however. Some diagnoses suffer from incredible stigma (at times, from professionals, as well as from the public in general). This can mean the difference between sympathy while talking about mental illness to condemnation while talking about X diagnosis.
A diagnosis also means having something to work from. This is both a blessing and a curse. It means having something to put into a search engine, but it also means having to stomach all that comes with those results. It is usually far from pretty. Information on illnesses, depending on the source, is often honest to a degree that’s painful to read. Personally, I find it most heart-breaking when I see the mortality rate for Mr. Juniper’s condition (oh yes, mental illnesses have mortality rates, too).
When I see the information like diagnostic criteria, treatment and recovery rates for Mr. Juniper’s condition, I see my husband laid out in bullet points. There’s the balance of knowing his diagnosis didn’t require every single criteria being met but looking at those bullet points, I can’t deny the ones which have “Mr. Juniper” written all over them. For Mr. Juniper there is the relief of validation for what he’s been going through. It’s real. For me, I’m still not sure. I married him, not his mental illness and yet someone’s written all about what goes into the nights I’d rather forget.
Then there’s usually a small paragraph buried in amongst all the other information on a diagnosis. The one about recovery. Sometimes, they give a percentage figure. Sometimes, an indication which could be better worded as, “We don’t have a clue. So good fucking luck.” To be fair, they have a point. There can be indicators as to what may favour recovery, but who’s to say which people are going to find the right medication, right therapy, right support…right everything. Sometimes, so much has happened that the best that can be asked is if things can get better. It’s what we focus on: simply getting better. Then there’s the time scale it all takes. One way to guarantee making a psychiatrist squirm? Ask them how long recovery takes. For pure amusement, however, ask them about sex. I couldn’t help but smile while Mr. Juniper and his psychiatrist were suppressing grins over the suggestion of “Persevering.”
Ultimately, the right diagnosis is usually a good thing. It acts as a gateway, among other things. Sometimes there’s information that’s hard to stomach, like the risk of turning into a unicorn after hitting thirty. I mean, that’s only next year for Mr. Juniper. But that’s part of a diagnosis, being able to know what risks are. To simply know more. A diagnosis can be an oasis after the mirages.