The ubiquitous symptom checklist can be very useful in this regard. Where the exercise fails is in its all-or-nothing approach. We’ve all done it. We’ve gone to the DSM and looked up something like borderline personality disorder. We counted the symptoms that apply to us and breathed a sigh of relief that we only manifested two or three rather than the mandatory five.
Yay! I’m not borderline! you may have exulted. But what about those tell-tale three symptoms? Are we supposed to just ignore them?
Maybe we need to be asking what these symptoms are really telling us? Do they have anything in common with your bipolar symptoms or your anxiety symptoms or your substance abuse symptoms or your alcoholism symptoms? Do they point to a common condition such as stress? Do you react to stress by flipping out or melting down or self-medicating?
Is your vulnerability to stressful situations the real problem, then? If so, how can you best deal with it? Are the people in your life causing you a lot of stress? If so, how can you change it?
Or to cite a different example, involving our current inquiry into ADD: Are the symptoms telling us we have a problem with impulse control? Are the symptoms telling us our minds are too fatigued or revved up to concentrate? Maybe then, we don’t have an ADD or bipolar problem so much as an impulse control problem or a failure to focus problem. If so, how do we best manage the problem?
Throwing away the diagnostic labels, then, can be the key to recovery. But first, we have to play with the diagnostic labels. Be smart. Question everything ...