A Disorder: a Definition or an Opportunity? (#36)

(Dedicated to all those who have ever been diagnosed with a mental disorder)

One question that I’m often asked is when did I first realize that I had OCD? Interestingly, from an early age, I had been achingly aware that I handled my fears differently from my peers. Unknowingly, I had been working on components of my anxiety disorder ever since then- awareness grows as a person grows.  Understanding the depth and complexities took over a decade but it was in college that I was professionally diagnosed. 

In my early twenties, I had established a primary care doctor and he was the first to identify my OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  A Clinical Psychologist later confirmed this.  I was actually quite relieved to have a name, an understanding.  It made it easier to research and implement new coping mechanisms.  All the pieces fell into place; this was the moment I self-actualized.

After I graduated from Berkeley, my same doctor asked me about ADHD and if I thought that I had it.  With all these acronyms flying around, I was caught off guard, “What?” He pointed out how I go off on tangents in my stories, which was 100% true.  I asked what it stood for; “Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder,” he replied.  I grinned, “Well, I’m most certainly hyperactive; my head bobbles and my body bounces.  It’s an affect from excessive energy but people often interpret it as bubbly.”

My Doctor choked on a laugh.  I was still confused what “Attention Deficit” meant so he explained: “difficult time concentrating, have trouble holding attention on tasks or play, easily distracted.”  I took a moment thinking about my childhood.  Did I have a difficult time finishing projects, easily distracted?  I had the hyperactivity part but no, I’m not easily distracted.  At times, I abruptly stopped and said, “Look, butterfly!” But, it was butterfly dependent.

“I don’t know about the Attention Deficit.  I’m hyper-focused.  It was easy for me to sit and study for hours on end at Berkeley- a necessity for anyone who wished to graduate.  It’s true that I go off on tangents in conversations, but I also return to the original point, for the most part.  I always seem to come full circle even if I’m a little delayed.” 

Thinking about this new diagnosis, I asked him, “I guess that since I’ve embraced my own OCD and now, with ADHD, I’m beginning to question why these have to be disorders in the first place.  I like my hyperactivity.  It’s like I wake up fully loaded and ready to charge through my day.  Makes it easier to exercise, clean my house, work, and etc.  I consider it an asset. I don’t get it.  Why is it a disorder?”

My doctor turned serious and agreed that “disorder” was just a name.  The thing is, he was right.  A name is a label; it’s not substance.  Ultimately, what defines us is our actions.  That’s what gives meaning to any name. 

Since my college years, I’ve developed friendships with many who have ADD/HD and we often relate to one another even though our disorders are polar opposites.  They too, inevitably, seem self-aware, addressing their tendencies.  I make lists of things to do; they have to make lists of things to do.  Whatever’s going on internally, organizing one’s thoughts offers structure in this fast pace world so truly, it becomes an asset.

What does this tell me?  It tells me that it’s my choice whether being obsessive compulsive, hyperactive, attention deficit, etc. is actually a disorder.  Is it a hindrance or an opportunity? Am I using this as a chance to better myself? I mean, no human can excel at everything. We all have flaws.

For over a decade now, I have asked myself these questions. Whether you have a “disorder” or not, these are good questions to ask.  They’re the types of questions that lead us to self-awareness.  And, accountability is not so terrible because with accountability comes self-forgiveness.  Whether we ask because we have a disorder or we do it for enlightenment- or both, the act, in itself, is about growth.  

My OCD offers me the opportunity to actualize who I am.  Being honest about my “organic” deficiencies like OCD allows me to recognize my fears and to overcome them whether real or self-induced; this has had a positive impact in all areas of my life.  How can I even call it a disorder when it has made me a better person? 

I’m tired of labels defining me.  Yes, it’s harder for me to overcome intrusive thoughts.  Yes, it creates unnecessary anxiety.  Yes, I have the energy of 12 pots of coffee.  Some things will always be inherent. 

What defines me is not the label, but the choices I make.  I choose to address my fears.  I stand up to them.  I say no.  My decisions define me.   

I choose to be my best self.  I work hard at overcoming my self-destructive tendencies. I’m not embarrassed that I have OCD or hyperactivity.  They have made me accountable and compassionate.  These are the very attributes that build content of character and oh, so much content at that.  The reality is that I have made the most destructive components of my personality into the greatest assets of my best self.  Well, isn’t that a contradiction of terms.

I often wonder, though, would I have chosen to address my fears if they weren’t so destructive early on in life? In all honesty, I cannot say yes with absolute certainty.  When you tackle your mental health, whether depression, anxiety, ADD, SAD or any of the gamut of disorders, they no longer own you.  You own them.  To me, the act of addressing them transforms our labels into opportunities and this seems to be the greatest asset of the human condition.  Hmmm…Isn’t that interesting, coming back full circle to my mission statement of turning a disorder into order, 36 blogs later- Told ya’, a little delayed!