BY ETHAR ELTIGANI HAMID
Before My Diagnosis
The last time I took a psychological assessment, I was thirteen. Now, ten years later, I’m completing another psychological test. Some of the examinations I’ve undergone so far in this process are a long questionnaire (“Do you feel that your self-esteem is high?” “Do you ever feel more talkative than usual?” are some of the questions I’ve been asked), an inkblot test, and a ‘make up a story by looking at these pictures’ exercise. The inkblot test was pretty fun (I saw some cool-looking sea creatures on one card, a dark ghost-like figure on another, and what appeared to be a water-color painted garden, or something, on another). I think it is the hype around inkblots that made the experience of taking an inkblot test enjoyable, for me. The exercise in which I had to make up stories by looking at a series of picture cards was kind of uncomfortable, though. It felt sorta like kindergarten, except a grown-up kind of kindergarten; one in which the answers you give during the play-time exercise will determine whether your mind is either sick, or very sick. So; a dark and twisted kindergarten, really.
Between my first psychological assessment (all those years ago) and today, I’ve dealt with a variety of symptoms: psychosis, mania, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression. Bipolar type I and psychotic depression were my two major diagnoses, during this stretch of time. (The diagnoses were given at separate times, by two different psychiatrists.) And I’ve missed a total of about nine months of school, as a result of my mental illness symptoms.
From doing my own studies and research (online) into my past symptoms, I’ve concluded that this latest psychological evaluation that I’m undergoing will reveal a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Or schizophrenia. Or something similar to either of those. To be honest, part of me wishes that schizoaffective disorder is the “worst” it will be.
Thanks to the current societal consensus (and my own self-esteem), I hope my diagnosis is not “schizophrenia.” “Schizoaffective disorder” has some cutesiness to it. It’s the “affective” part–the mood disorder part–that softens and glamorizes the disorder, to a certain small extent. I’m quite sure of this phenomenon. After all, everyone can relate to mood disruptions, hence the softer reception upon hearing ‘schizoaffective disorder’. And having a disruption or disorder with one’s mood draws up a certain, albeit irrational, admiration; S/he feels things deeply; she’s such a tortured soul, and etc. All in all, it is thanks to schizoaffective disorder being in large part a mood condition that pacifies and excites people, to a certain extent.
“Schizophrenia,” on the other hand, is such a damper. It’s such a full-blown monster of a disease, in many people’s eyes. As a result, no one really wants to hear it–no matter how much you’re hurting…no matter how much you want to be open about it.
Obviously, I don’t condone the fact that aspects of society have designated some disorders as acceptable—almost “cool”, and others as repugnant. (Like, with the mood disorder thing, again. I mean, bipolar these days is considered almost “in,” in certain scenarios. And depression, though painful and ugly in most respects, is sometimes portrayed as a cool character quirk, rather than a serious illness.) And I don’t condone the fact that some mental disorders are much more stigmatized than others. Yet, I fall for such dangerous beliefs and social constructs.
I am eager to find out what exactly has been plaguing me for the past 10 years, since my past diagnoses were apparently wrong, or faulty. So in that regard, I can’t wait for my diagnosis.
At the same time, I am kind of worried. What if it’s schizophrenia? What the heck will I say to people? What can I say? I don’t think we, as a species, have come up with a reasonable answer to that, yet.
After My Diagnosis
Last week, I received a new mental health diagnosis. My diagnosis used to be bipolar, and then, some years later, psychotic depression. Now, after having completed a lengthy psychological evaluation, I was told (and I read in my report) that “schizoaffective disorder, depressive type” is “most appropriate, at this time” (“this time” being February, 2017—eleven years into my mental health issues).
I’m satisfied with this diagnosis. I feel that it suits me much better than the former two. To be honest, I was expecting a diagnosis of “schizophrenia, paranoid type,” to a large degree. But hearing the words “schizoaffective disorder” creates a “this is just right” feeling, in me. And a significantly relief, as well.
Schizoaffective disorder is a mental disorder characterized by both schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms. And from what I read online (through mayoclinic.org, nami.org, and other sites), the diagnosis is made when a patient shows symptoms of both conditions, but does not strictly meet the criteria for either one, alone. In my case, the “schizophrenia symptoms” are mainly paranoid delusions, and the “mood disorder symptom” is depression. (Others might have hallucinations and/or delusions as their “schizophrenia symptoms,” mixed with “bipolar mood symptoms,” in which case they might receive a diagnosis of “schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type.”)
I will be cautious with disclosing my new diagnosis to others. This is a choice I am consciously making. While I was under a bipolar diagnosis, I only told my closest friends (well, friend) about my condition. Even then, I only mentioned it twice, I think, for fear of alienating myself from her. While I was under a “psychotic depression” diagnosis, I didn’t really tell anyone. It was the “psychotic” part that I knew was really stigmatized in our societies. Sometime, I would even lie (half lie?) and say that I had depression—leaving out the “psychotic” part, because I knew it would change the way people look at me.
With this new diagnosis, I don’t think I will tell anyone. I know it’s much better-received than its sister condition, schizophrenia. But we’re a long way before the phrase “schizo-anything” is acceptable, or even tolerated.
Ethar E. Hamid is an aspiring writer and artist from Khartoum, Sudan, currently living in northern Virginia. She hopes to contribute to the worldwide discussions about mental health, black/POC experiences, Muslim experiences, and the experiences of other marginalized people, through her work.