I didn’t notice when my psychiatrist told me that I had a personality disorder. I took a mental note to “look it up later” after she said that I had “obsessive-compulsive personality traits,” but then forgot about it for several hours. But that night, a Friday night at the end of June, I won’t forget. I sat in our dark brown corduroy recliner with my iPad, and I typed her comments into Safari. I read and reread the DSM-V definition of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder and checked off all symptoms but one (hoarding). I remembered what I was told about personality disorders in nursing school. “Those are the hopeless ones,” my instructor had said, “they don’t get better.” I wasn’t just worthless. Now I was hopeless. “Personality disorders are a diagnosis psychiatrists use for patients they don’t like,” I read in an article. Seeing my psychologist didn’t help. “I don’t recommend telling anyone,” he told me, after he said that he agreed with the diagnosis. “There is so much stigma with personality disorders that many psychologists refuse to treat them.” Great.
Now, seven months later, I’m no longer ashamed of my diagnosis. What was said and done to me when I was younger is not my fault. I take responsibility for it now, but the abuse was not my fault. I developed a personality disorder in order to protect myself, and now that I no longer need protection, I can learn other ways of coping. And having a more complicated mental illness means that I have a psychiatrist that I see regularly which is a bonus in our super-long-wait-list health care system. There are lots of days when I wish my brain was different, but today I’ll take it just as it is.