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National Empowerment Center - Articles

We are more than our disorder

By Allen P. Wilkinson, J.D.

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At support group meetings, the usual procedure is for a person to stand up and say, "Hi, I'm Bill (or Beth) and I'm a ________ (Fill in the blank with any label you choose: depressive, manic depressive, alcoholic, cocaine addict, codependent, unipolar, schizophrenic, etc.)."

To the government, doctors, insurance companies, and others making up "the system," we are no longer a person. We are a disorder. The government will give us disability, Medicaid, and other benefits only if we have been properly diagnosed and categorized as having this or that disorder.

To doctors and insurance companies, not only are we a disorder, we are also a number. They use a numerical code from a thick book known as the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) to classify us as a disorder or illness, not a person.

In one of his songs, Bob Seeger sings about how he feels "like a number," and ends with the cry, "I'm not a number." And neither are we a number, no more than we are a diagnosis, disorder, or illness. We are people.

It's hard to keep our identity as people in a system that is designed to put us in a box along with all other persons who share the same disorder. We get treated as though every person with major depression, manic depression, schizophrenia, etc., were the same as the next one. Eventually, we may even come to believe that we are nothing more than a walking, talking disorder, and lose our sense of self and self-worth.

But if we only open our eyes, look around and see what the system is doing to us, we'll want to throw the window open like the television executive from the movie "Network" and shout, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

And the fact is, we shouldn't take it anymore. We are not a disorder, and illness, or a disease. We are people with a disorder, not a disorder with a person.

Sometimes I feel like one of those big suitcases in the old black-and-white movies with labels plastered all over them from every place the person had visited that you can't see the suitcase itself anymore? The weight of the system's labels is dragging us down as much as the disorder or illness itself is.

The next time someone asks you for your "diagnosis," shock the person by replying that you have been diagnosed as a human being, Homo Sapiens. Stand up at your next support group meeting and say, "Hi, I'm Joan, and I'm a woman who enjoys romance novels. I also suffer from chronic depression." Tell them a bit about yourself. Let them know you are a whole human being, and how the disorder affects you as a person, not the other way around.

It is not money or social standing that makes the person. Look at Mother Teresa. She is loved and revered by millions for the work she does in the most poverty and disease stricken areas of the world, place the "rich and famous" wouldn't dare set foot. She herself has taken a vow of poverty and her sole reward is spiritual, non-monetary.

Yet if you were to put her in "the system," she would probably be quickly diagnosed with a number of disorders, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, delusions of grandeur-trying to rid the world of poverty, disease, and suffering-and some type of personality disorder. After all, it's not "normal" to help others for the sheer joy or inner peace it gives you.

Mother Teresa could easily be diagnosed as the most codependent person ever to have walked the face of the earth. But we all know how foolish "the system" would look if it tried to classify Mother Teresa's personal sacrifices and hard work as some type of disorder.

Mother Teresa is not a disorder, and neither are we. We all share the common bond of being human. Never forget this: we are a human being with a disorder, not a disorder with a human being. As such, we are entitled to be treated with every amount of rights, respect, and decency as a person without a disorder.

We are more than our disorder. Always remember that and we will be one step ahead of "the system."