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You are not your diagnosis


Walk down the street and remind yourself: behind every door is a unique individual, or a houseful. Everyone's dealing with stuff - sickness, money, relationships - and we're all doing the best we can with what we've got.


You are not your diagnosis, your diagnosis does not define you and a diagnosis is not an identity. Doesn't matter what it is: on the spectrum, ADHD, cancer, depression, anxiety, gender identity, whatever. You are more, so much more than, and different from, what you've been told or you've decided you 'are.' You are you, an utterly and gloriously unique human being, different in so many ways from the eight billion on earth today or the hundred billion who've ever lived or all the billions yet to come.


Look at your fingernails. Now turn them over and look at your fingerprints. Touch anything in a room and you leave a unique trace of your you-ness. Stick out your tongue and see if you can glimpse the end of it. Take a quick little scrape from your tongue and we'll have a sample of your unique DNA. Your ears are unique. Your gait - the way you walk - is unique.


Your diagnosis is one of the many, many interesting things about you, and it's less of a key to who you are than you think it is. There's millions of people with the same or a similar diagnosis to you... but there's only one you.


What else about you is interesting? OK, here goes:

1) What are you doing when you find that you lose track of time? We call that a flow state, and it's really, really interesting.

2) You've overcome some real challenges in your time. How on earth did you manage to do it?

3) You have a favourite place. Where is it? How does it make you feel?

4) Quick: what are three memories you have?


Ask ten thousand people - a million people - those four questions and no one person would return the same answers for all of them, probably not even for two of them.


Here's another example. I've met hundreds of people with anxiety. You know what anxiety is, right? No, you don't. You don't know what anxiety is because there is no such thing as anxiety. I'm not saying it doesn't exist. I'm saying it isn't a thing. Everyone does anxiety differently, in their own unique way - but we're fooled by the word into thinking that it's a thing. (The term for this, if you're interested, is reification. Myself, I reckon a good half of the world's problems could be eliminated if people understood this concept.)


You think I'm exaggerating? Some people who would describe themselves as anxious say they get butterflies in their stomach; others who would describe themselves as anxious don't know what you mean by that. Anxiety can be experienced as sensations in: the head, the forehead, the eyes, the throat, the tongue, the neck, the shoulders, the chest, the stomach, the arms, the legs, the hands... and no doubt some other bits I've missed. And if we can find ways to be different with something as common as anxiety, we can find ways to be different about everything.


Two things about your diagnosis can be true at the same time. First, that it's a limitation on you, a way for people to save time really getting to know you in all your peculiar, wonderful weirdness. And while that's understandable - no-one's as interested in you as you are, after all - it's also a reduction, a simplification. And secondly, even though you know this and very probably resent it, it's also possible that you're a little confronted or affronted by what I've said here. It may feel like I'm downplaying or diminishing your diagnosis, and you may dislike the feeling. Well, I'm not... but I'm also saying there's more to you than that. And most importantly of all: it's in the other bits - the answers to those four questions, for starters - that your strengths lie.



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