I walk to work and home most days which gives me a good hour and a half alone to just think and I come up with some very random topics sometimes. I’d like to think this is a time when I’m thinking of deep issues but most of the time I think of total rubbish! However I’ve been thinking about this subject for quite a long time and it’s been on my mind a lot more recently coming up to my haematologist appointment that may finally give me a reason for why I got my blood clot. Are we so obsessed with labels these days that we’re creating illnesses and conditions that don’t really exist?
Before I start I’d just like to state I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental illness. I have no idea what it is like to suffer from one and certainly don’t want to claim that they don’t exist. I have friends who suffer and have genuinely been helped by the various different treatments so they clearly do exist. My main train of thinking however is do they exist to the same extent that society seems to believe they do?
This train of thought started quite a long time ago whilst thinking of my friend who has dyslexia. Until I got to know her I thought, like most people probably do, that it just meant she was a bit rubbish at reading and spelling however I since learnt that it actually can affect quite a few other aspects of her life such as her pathfinding skills. Sometimes she genuinely struggles to walk between two desks because her spatial awareness just is off. We all do it, I’m sure we’ve all had those embarrassing moments when you walk into a door frame but she will do it a lot more often unless she properly concentrates on where she is walking. How many people though only suffer from the spelling and reading aspects? And at what point do you switch from merely being bad at spelling to actually being dyslexic?
One thing that crosses my mind is did someone decide there had to be a condition simply because we have decided that reading and writing are such important skills? No one would say you are suffering from anything if you’re bad at art or football. You’d simply say they can’t play football or draw to save their life. They are not considered essential skills so who cares if you are terrible at them? Speaking from a purely survival point of view however reading and writing are also not important. You don’t need those skills to hunt down food or run away from a predator so genetically we are not built to all be good at them and those of us who aren’t good at them won’t die out and take those genes out of the genepool.
This leads me to wonder about other mental issues such as anxiety and depression. A friend of mine was diagnosed relatively recently with anxiety and she has been greatly helped by cognitive behavioural therapy. I felt incredibly honoured when she told me her diagnosis as she didn’t tell any other friends for a long time because she didn’t want to constantly be asked how she was or how the therapy was going. It makes me wonder because she ‘only’ had therapy rather than medication is it something that is ‘wrong’ with her or is it simply that she is wired to deal with setbacks differently? Is it necessarily a condition or is it more of an outcome of how she was brought up to deal with emotions or setbacks? I wonder this about myself sometimes; I can be quite rubbish in social situations and am a very shy person. Large crowds terrify me; the first time I got off the train at London Euston I wanted to cry, I felt so overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people. I don’t think this is due to anything wrong with me though; I was simply brought up in a tiny village, am not used to large crowds and am just not that personality type anyway. I’ve always preferred to have a couple of close friends and whilst I’m ok in larger groups of friends I will shrink back into myself and feel vulnerable until most of them go away.
There are also clearly mental illnesses that are caused by physical issues. Dementia is the one that leaps straight into my mind as I’ve known many people who suffer from this and it also seems to run in my paternal side of the family. We know through research that this is caused by certain proteins in the brain which disrupts the signals and causes memory loss and a loss of every day skills. It manifests in different ways in different people depending on whereabouts the proteins are affected. To my mind (which is of course not medically trained but I am a fairly logical, scientific-thinking kind of person) this suggests anything that improves when given medication is probably also caused by a physical defect, we just may not have discovered the exact link yet. Some people who have anxiety find medication helps so they may truly have something ‘wrong’ with them in an actual physical way which then affects their mental functions. And of course we all know what hormones can do to someone emotionally, most obviously when us women have that fun time of the month!
The past 14 months have made me rethink a lot of this over and over. I was definitely mentally affected by my clot; partially the shock of such a thing happening and also partially from the medication. My memory was terrible whilst I was taking Warfarin and whilst I am back to scaring people with the random things about them that I remember it is definitely not quite back to how it was before. It is also apparently quite common for clot survivors to suffer PTSD; thankfully I haven’t but some people develop it years after. Personally I don’t believe I will but then I doubt anyone ever suspects they will. Is that an illness or simply a common reaction? I don’t want to find out first hand but it really isn’t something that you can judge until you experience it yourself I guess.
By labelling something an illness or a condition, whether it is or not, does it really help us? This is what I’m really interested in right now and can’t quite decide upon. With my upcoming diagnosis I’m not really sure what my preferred outcome would be. I believe the outcome is going to be the same regardless; I’ll either be put on blood thinners for life or I won’t unless I clot again. If there is no reason found then that’s great, I don’t have to worry that there is something ‘wrong’ with me and my parents won’t have to worry about them also having genes that would cause clots. However then that makes it quite frustrating that I developed the clot for no reason other than bad luck. If it turns out I do have a genetic mutation then I do at least have a reason and don’t have to wonder if there was something I could have done to prevent it. There may eventually be ways to minimise my risk of further clots if enough research is done and I have the right mutation. But then that means my parents could also suffer from it and it still isn’t something that is fixable. I’ve still had the clot and am still at risk. You’re at more risk after having a clot anyway so it’s not even as though I’d be at more or less risk depending on the outcome. On the same vein of thinking is it really right for us to be defining so many illnesses; does it really help anyone or do some people just feel worse because there is something ‘wrong’ with them?
I’ll continue to debate this, in the mean time I think I’ll just continue to take time for myself and not worry unduly about things. One thing both my and my friends experiences have taught me is that regardless of your view on things we need to be there for each other and just try to understand other people’s situations without judging them.