SELF-DIAGNOSIS: THE FIRST MISTAKE OF AN IGNORANT, MACHO MAN
“I can’t believe how easy this is going to be!” I said to everyone quietly reading around me.
No one else in the Reference Room of the 13th & Broadway Branch cared how well my research was going. But they should have cared. It’s a really big deal. Until today, all I knew about mental illness has been the over-the-top stereotypes dispensed by the media, but now, a few hours into self-guided study, surely I know just about everything.
I dog-eared a page and closed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV on my lap, having already waded through the tremendous varieties of behavioral disorders and created a list of suspects that fit the profile of symptoms preemptively noted in my black pocketbook.
At first glance, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV is logical and simple to read, so my confidence swelled with every entry. I even discovered a handy-dandy diagnostic tree in the furthermost back pages, which would have made the process much simpler had I not continued with my slightly less scientific process of randomly flipping open a nine-hundred-and-forty-one page book and merely hoping for the best, a process sucking me into countless entries of meticulously catalogued mental disorders that, in the end, have nothing to do with me. Still, my confidence grew that by the end of this library visit I’d know which mental disorder was plaguing every Sisyphean aspect of my escalating illogical existence.
And when I say Sisyphean, you should know I refer not only to my relentless frustrations and suffering but also to their hubric origins.
And when I say hubric origins, you should also know I refer not only to my showy vocabulary but also to my months-long intention to diagnose and overcome this unknown disorder without doctors, medication, or anything beyond my own intellectual resources.
Let me explain this to you some more. I’m a guy. Maybe you’re a guy, and if so, you’ll most likely understand what I’m getting at. As a guy, I fix things. I especially like to fix things that I broke in the first place. If my head is cracked up, then there’s only one guy morally obligated to fix it. This is nothing more than a byproduct of that sound work ethic taught to us by our dads’ generation.
You know that cliché about guys not wanting to ask for directions? Imagine reaching out to a total stranger for directions with something as messy as your own head. As if I could in good conscience expect anyone to give me a hand with my own mess. Especially one as big as this. I mean, come on, what kind of a work ethic would that be?
I offered a big smile for everyone in the Reference Room.
Let’s see. There was Generalized Anxiety Disorder coded at 300.02. That entry landed in my top five because of the tidy paragraph covering an ample number of my own symptoms, such as trembling, twitching, muscle aches, accelerated heart rate, shortness of breath, and dizziness. There was Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia right at 300.21. Unknown to everyone else in the Reference Room at the 13th & Broadway Branch, I’d been enjoying my fair share of debilitating anxiety, the kind inducing me to call out from some recent shifts at the grocery store so I could cower in the corner of my unfinished basement. However, I jotted down that this disorder didn’t explain the bouts of rage. I strayed into Appendix B and eliminated Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder, even though, yes, I had lately acted like a prick toward more than a few people.
I felt like I was getting closer with Adjustment Disorder With Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood. That’s at 309.28, if you’ve decided to start reading along. This is when you’re having major trouble coping with major life changes. As I am. Recently divorced. Reluctant to conclude a single remodeling project on my century-old fixer-upper. Resentful of my leadership position at the grocery store that’s chewing me up and is now poised to spit. That, coupled with an “inappropriate, exaggerated, or limited range of feelings,” assured me that my research was on the right track.
Hm. Yet still nothing about excessive masturbation.
Finally, I got to those monsters down in code 296, the group titled Major Depressive Disorders. I’d stumbled onto them only because my primary suspect, Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders, come right before at 295. And at 296, I begin to find some real answers. All the diagnostic criteria ring true. All the episodes. A person only needs five of nine conditions to qualify.
Try six! “Recurrent thoughts of death…” “feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt…” “insomnia nearly every day…” “fatigue…” “psychomotor agitation…” “markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day…” Like reading description after description of your astrological sign and guffawing at the absurd amount of similarities.
I’m a Pisces by the way, if you believe in such stuff.
Which I don’t.
After studying the thirteen pages under Major Depressive Disorders, its sub-categories and later footnotes, I felt the relief of finding a mental disorder that explains away all my concerns.
Having confidently diagnosed myself, I can now begin the simple, methodical process of fixing things. Shouldn’t be too hard. As with most things, unfaltering good-intentions and plenty of introspection should do the trick.
Don’t worry. I got this.
Christopher Scott Downing is author of Van Gogh in Peppers: a self portrait of Male Depression, available from Amazon and other booksellers. He regularly helps men (and their loved ones) begin their own conversations about the possibility of mental illness in their lives.
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