It’s 4:08 in the morning as I type this. The reason I’m up this early is that I was thinking of the past few years of my life, as it relates to thorns in my flesh. I was thinking about the conversation I had with my friend, and how we agreed that it is distasteful, detrimental, and dangerous to claim a diagnosis that you don’t actually have. On the flip side of that, a diagnosis can be the gateway to healing.
When I got diagnosed with the first thorn in my flesh (aka “mental illness”), it was the second week of my junior year of college, after Labor Day weekend. After telling the male Indian psychologist what had been happening that week, and years prior as far as my thought process was concerned, he diagnosed me with clinical depression. That diagnosis was not surprising. What did surprise me was the way he immediately started pushing antidepressants on me in an extremely aggressive way. It was because of his aggressive approach (and the fact that I prayed for guidance after he momentarily left the room) that I decided against taking antidepressants and went to an on-school counselor instead.
The second thorn in my flesh happened October 30, 2014. That was the day I got diagnosed, officially, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I say “officially” because my counselor had unofficially diagnosed me with it two days prior after I told her my symptoms. I doubt that conversation would have happened if not for a conversation I had with an out of state friend a week prior. I was telling him about what happened on a particular day, how I had walked out of yet another class because of flashbacks. He simply asked me afterward, “Are you sure you don’t have PTSD?” That was the beginning of a long road to healing. I am forever grateful to him. So, as it stands currently, I’ve had this thorn for 3 years, 2 months, and 5 days. It’s been a wild ride. The first two years were a hellish nightmare because I had no help. My on-campus counselor wasn’t trained in trauma, so for the rest of my junior year and the entirety of my senior year, I was on my own. Things got worse once I left college.
It’s hard enough having a diagnosis, experiencing the symptoms, and not being able to function even with a support team. Take that away, and you feel completely lost and alienated, especially when you’re surrounded by people who don’t necessarily understand the need for psychology and therapy after traumatization. In the summer and fall months following my graduation, I was told by many that I shouldn’t accept or claim the diagnosis I had received, that I was either being tested by God or pursued by Satan, and that I should just pray and read Scripture, which I did, but in the wee hours of the morning when I woke up from nightmares and went straight into a panic attack or flashback, Scripture wasn’t helpful. It helped me when dealing with the spiritual warfare I faced in conjunction with PTSD, but that was it for me. I often felt like if I did experience heavy symptoms that Scripture and prayer couldn’t resolve, then I was simply letting the diagnosis control me; I wasn’t trying hard enough to overcome it. Truth be told, PTSD was controlling me, to the point I couldn’t function, but not because I hadn’t read my Bible and prayed enough. It was because I hadn’t found a therapist yet. I felt like going to therapy was weak and “a white person thing,” certainly not for a Black Christian. I got over that way of thinking real quick when suicidal thoughts became more prevalent.
After being in therapy for almost 1.5 years, I have since learned that a diagnosis is not a life sentence, in and of itself. It only becomes one if you allow it. If you refuse to apply coping mechanisms or do the exercises your therapist gives you, if you just give up, then, yes, your diagnosis has turned into a life sentence and has left you immobile and not able to function. However, if you give life a chance, in the middle of symptoms and diagnoses, you’ll find that you can live. You can make better choices, grow in love and trust, and have a good relationship with yourself in the midst of mental chaos. A diagnosis does not automatically mean a life sentence. Go live.