Don't use your mental diagnosis as an excuseDoesn’t really matter the diagnosis; stop using your mental diagnosis as an excuse. Stop blaming something “outside of your control” for something inside your control. Stop justifying your negative actions with the guise of a mental diagnosis. Just stop.

There’s a line here, of course, when a person is physically or mentally incapable of performing an action or refraining from performing an action — but in most cases, a situation isn’t this extreme. We just like to be dramatic and make it out to be this extreme.

I’m not talking about these extreme situations; rather, I’m talking about the situations where people use a mental diagnosis (whether self-diagnosed or professionally diagnosed) as an excuse to place themselves in the “extremely rare case” category.

mental diagnosis excuseEvery person (except in instances that you, reader, probably don’t fall into and that I’m not going to mention again) possesses free will or agency or the ability to make choices or whatever you’d like to term the phenomenon. This means — shocker — that you are in control of your life and the actions that set your life in motion.

By using your mental diagnosis — or, on an even lighter note, your mental disposition — as an excuse for acting a particular way, you give your diagnosis the power to rule your life. You take yourself out of the driver’s seat of your life. Trust me, things go awry when you do this.

Long story short: you crash.

This is coming from someone who used to have panic attacks if eating in any restaurant fancier than Applebee’s, who refused to order a sandwich for two years of undergrad because it required actually asking a person for my food, and who has spent countless sunny days in the hulking shadows of my bed.

So when I say, “stop using your mental diagnosis as an excuse,” I don’t say it just because it pisses me off; I don’t say it just because I’m sick of those diagnosed with ADHD using it as an excuse to say they can’t (won’t) listen to me; I don’t say it just because I’m sick of those diagnosed with anxiety using it as an excuse to say they can’t interview for a job (but then complain about not having money); nor do I say it because I’m sick of those diagnosed with depression using it as an excuse to stop trying (do it, even if you don’t want to).

No, I say it because I want the very best for you.

Diagnosis or not, don’t make excuses. Own up to your actions. Put yourself back in the driver’s seat. If there’s always an outside reason you aren’t being the best version of yourself that you can be (because the computer crashed, because I have OCD, because it scares me), then you’ll never be the best version of yourself, because you’ll convince yourself that you aren’t in control. Why give more power to something that already tries to suck the control from you?

mental diagnosis excuseA problem with excuses is that if you get in the throes of passion with them, you’ll never end the relationship; you’ll never own up to “you” being the reason you made a mistake or showed up late or forgot a meeting or acted out in a negative way.

Don’t use your mental diagnosis as an excuse to place yourself in the “extremely rare case” category — you don’t belong there. Don’t let a label constrict you by telling you how you are expected to live your life.

You are your greatest ally, your strongest medicine — keep yourself on your side.

Don’t use your mental diagnosis as an excuse for why you refuse solutions to your problems. Don’t add to your problems; instead recognize the fact that you yourself may be the solution. I acknowledge this may be terrifying, because recognizing this and acting upon it would involve effort, effort with the possibility of failure. And to many, failure is not an option. So, instead, some would prefer to revert back to only seeing the problem and complaining (without openness to solutions) than to better their situation.

Am I hypothesizing? Am I ranting? Yes and yes. Am I proponent for cognitive exercises as a therapy for mental disorders? Clearly. Will some people take sensitive offense to this? Yes, but many people take offense to truth.

mental diagnosis excuseIf athletes who have lost legs can run marathons, you can get out of bed. I’m not saying that because I lack empathy or sympathy for those with depression (and not because I want to provide an example of a logical fallacy) but because I truly believe you can, and you will. Or, in “meme speak,” if Britney Spears survived 2007, you can make it through today.

Drive your life.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. If people want to stay in bed, what’s it to you? If people want to cite diagnosed or undiagnosed illnesses as reasons for them being a certain way or doing things a certain way, or not doing things they don’t want to do, what’s it to you? Let people be who they want to be, let people do what they want to do, and stop trying to impose your view of who they should be and what they should do onto them.
    When did humans become so controlling? Why do they think it’s okay to be so controlling? If they’re not hurting anyone, can’t we just leave people alone?

    • I wonder if you noticed that the author was not trying to “control” any particular person but offering a different viewpoint than staying stuck in a rut. I changed my life for the better after someone pointed out my own stuck behavior (I didn’t want to hear it at first) and I thank her through the years for an amazing life. Sometimes you need a little help from your friends!

    • Superficially, the topic is “something to me,” because it is a pet peeve: plain and simple. In the same way, I wish people didn’t hog sidewalks or click pens. It is the underlying issue within this topic, though, that is my pet peeve–the idea of using an excuse to avoid accountability. Ultimately, the piece grew from there to be more about solidarity.

      It doesn’t *personally* affect me until people start complaining and using their mental diagnoses as excuses. In my experience, when they do this, they often complain without any openness towards solutions. Therefore, they exert negative energy into my environment, which mentally, emotionally, and–sometimes–physiologically affects my well-being, in addition to the fact that they are wasting my time and attention by complaining about something they may not be willing to combat.

      I personally don’t see this column as controlling whatsoever. Rather, I see these words as encouraging and optimistic by emitting positive energy into other people’s mindsets. Obviously, those with mental health diagnoses have challenges in their lives–not excuses, but challenges–and challenges are often less difficult when there’s either a team effort involved or at least when seen with a positive, encouraging attitude.

      You’re right–I can’t and I honestly don’t ever want to suppose the power of controlling anyone. Every individual has choice in his or her life, but when you say that we should let people be who they want to be and do what they want to do, does that suppose these people want or desire to lie in bed all day? Or to compulsively lock the door five times every morning? Or to have mental illness, mood disorder, or apathy? Does this suppose that we shouldn’t provide support or encouragement in order for them to recognize a possible lifestyle that they may want more than what they currently have? Is lying in bed an actual desire or a result of a condition?

      The collective, altruistic side of me wants the best for every individual and wants every individual to be the best version of themselves they can be, and I want them to be happy. In that case, why wouldn’t I want to put positive energy into their surroundings? From there, perhaps they can find the strength to practice mindfulness, being aware of what they’re saying and what they’re doing and how they’re acting in order to ultimately use that mindfulness to better their situation.

      You posed the question: “When did humans become so controlling?” I don’t think the question is so much about when did we become so controlling, but rather when did we stop caring? We are culturally and evolutionary dispositioned towards being a collective species, towards helping each other survive. Yes, you have survival of the fittest and competition and all that, but at the same time, we work as a community as a tribe as a town or as a collective to better the whole rather than the individual. And perhaps it is hard to say where the problem lies: have we dropped away from caring about others? Or is this a result of selfishly focusing too much on the individual?

      In the end, I do want people to be the best versions of themselves, because I think this would make for a lovely world. And I’m all about having a lovely world.

  2. I agree that people have a broad “right to be left alone” (e.g., along the lines of privacy). But the author is specifically discussing how people use their issues as excuses, and excuses inherently involve communicating with the outside world. Excuses, therefore, affect other people. It would be different for the person who refuses to leave his room but does not have responsibilities (and therefore no room for excuses), but that’s not the way people are: we do, indeed, have responsibilities–even small ones–and so we must be careful to avoid locking ourselves in that proverbial room.

    And regardless, it is our social responsibility to encourage and support people in embracing freedom. But freedom isn’t the right to do whatever you want. It is the ability to make the morally, ethically, and socially correct choice of one’s own volition. Locking oneself in one’s room and abandoning responsibility isn’t an expression of freedom, it is blatantly discarding it. It is making an excuse. True freedom would be to make the, albeit gargantuan, effort to throw away excuses and live fully. This is one of the primary responsibilities for society, namely, to provide a healthy, fertile environment for expression of true freedom.

  3. This article reeks of privilege and ignorance, a particularly damaging combination. I’m glad the author overcame her issues, er, “mental diagnosis,” but her smugness is inappropriate. The rest of the world calls these mental illnesses and conditions, but the rhetorical degradation is noted. Who is the author to decide whether a professionally diagnosed condition is really disabling or requires accommodation? Does she have the education and certification required to engage in such judgment? Based on her published qualifications, she does not.

    Mental illnesses are not “extremely rare” (there are statistics on this type of thing should anyone choose to do the research), but they are potentially disabling. Having a mental illness is not avoiding responsibility. People can crash even when they are in the driver’s seat and doing all the right things (i.e. being obedient and respectful of societal norms and fulfilling what we think of as their obligations). Mental illnesses are not a choice: they are a hijacking of one’s brain and body.

    If someone annoys us by claiming a disability we don’t believe they have or which we believe they should be able to overcome, we can request documentation, we can be compassionate, we can refer them to other resources, we can help them develop an actionable plan for change, we can help them develop tools to cope, we can work on mitigating our own prejudices, and/or we can make accommodations. If we instead choose to equate pen clicking and sidewalk hogging with mental illness, discriminate against and cast aspersions on the accountability of those who are suffering, demean the professionals who serve them, and set ourselves apart by labeling those with such conditions as failed humans, such hubris degrades our human interactions and potentially harms others.

    To say that such actions are helpful (in the kick in the pants model), is a false claim. Only those supposedly being helped can define whether such attitudes are helpful, and my experience has been that not believing someone is suffering is not helpful. Telling someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is not helpful. Directing someone to shed their mental illness because it is annoying is not helpful. Caring only enough to tell someone how wrong, lazy, ineffective, and annoying they are is not helpful, even if we say it is done out of love.

    If this attitude is widespread or endemic enough that it can be expressed with such openness by a member of the faculty of a local university, I suggest training in required to ensure that the institution is not discriminating against students with mental illnesses and other disabling conditions affecting the brain and the body. After all, those wheelchairs annoyingly hog the sidewalk. Why don’t those people just rise and walk and get out of my way? If the answer is that physical disabilities are different, you’re wrong.

    • I feel that you have missed the author’s thesis statement entirely. The author is not claiming “to decide whether a professionally diagnosed condition is really disabling or requires accommodation.” She is saying that people should not use the difficulties in their lives are scapegoats for not trying to live as best as they are able. You are right that “mental illnesses are not a choice,” but those suffering with mental illness should embrace life (cultivate the virtue of hope) rather than despair and fail to make any attempt to better themselves as they can–that is the author’s point. And it is true for all of us, with or without mental illness.

      Moreover the author is also not claiming that mental illnesses “are not ‘extremely rare.'” She is saying that statements such as, “You just don’t understand what’s it like,” may be true, but they are also hollow. Such statements do not acknowledge that many people struggle daily with mental illness, and the author is implicitly acknowledging that. Instead, she is encouraging everything to look for help beyond these cliches and stereotypes. It is a laudable observation.

    • It’s amazing how points seems to bounce off your impenitrable mind… But I’ll try. The author is asking people to own their own actions and not to use their disability as an excuse. If you read, you’d understand. But comprehension is hard for people dead-set on naysaying everything on the Internet. Mental illness is misdiagnosed in the country on monumental scales to facilitate a pharmaceutical industry. What I got from the article, because I read it with an open mind and didn’t just immediate assume the author comes from privilege. When you project a truth onto yourself “I can’t talk to that person, I have anxiety” you’ve already told the story and made the outcome a reality based on your assessment of yourself. Now, if you look at is as a challenge to overcome you build a new nural pathway in your brain and you begin to change behavior. Habits in life come from patterns of thoughts in the brain. If you change your thought process and patterns you will begin to change your life. So when someone uses the crutch of anxiety, depression, mental illness, etc. they get nowhere.

  4. I’ve had the kind of social anxiety you describe. What you describe is not the same as having the executive deficiencies that might make it difficult for someone with ADHD to focus and process your words. It’s not the same as having a chemical imbalance that kills your ability to feel any joy, satisfaction, or hope. When life, itself, has lost meaning, what meaning do you expect someone to find in “trying”. Trying for what? This isn’t simply about “not wanting to”. And have you ever gone to an important meeting like, say, a job interview, and had an outright panic attack complete with physiological symptoms that you are incapable of hiding from others? Taking that risk when you feel yourself on the edge of panic isn’t simply scary or hard, it can be reckless. Nothing says “take me seriously as a professional” like inexplicable tears, hyperventilating, throwing up, or even passing out, and you can bet that the anxious person is fighting hard to get it under control.

    It’s a funny thing, anxiety. You know that subjecting yourself to something like that can actually reinforce and worsen the anxiety, making you more likely to repeat the experience later? Which, incidentally, will make it even worse. The neural pathways become increasingly caught in a fear rut, and that fear rut is outside of conscious control. The best bet they have is to constantly monitor their internal state and work on relaxation techniques to help them do damage control.

    Or there’s professional help… If they have access (which is a MAJOR issue for many struggling people), but even then it might take years of therapy and fine-tuning meds to get back to that sweet spot where they aren’t white knuckling their way through life. I’m sorry if it bothers you that it bothers someone else that they feel stuck and broke.

    You call it a pet peeve, but most of us struggling with these issues don’t have the luxury of walking away. It isn’t a pet peeve, it’s our life. What you call excuses are probably just people doing their best to explain why they can’t be as awesome as you at all times.

    Oh, how I wish I hadn’t spent so many years buying into the idea that acknowledging my own issues to others would be making excuses. I wish I hadn’t spent so many years trying to just keep trying in spite of failing. THIS did the bulk of the damage. I was hopelessly optimistic for years, and still failed. There comes a point when no pep-talk in the world that will make someone who has grown accustomed to failing feel like they can really get it this time if they just buck up and try harder. Getting to functional has taken time and patience and a lot of hard work. It’s also required me to be more gentle with myself.

    But I’m sorry you’ve been confronted by your pet peeve? I’m sorry you were inconvenienced or annoyed? That must be so hard for you.

    • I think you make some good points, and just wanted to point out that the author’s pet peeve is not with people who are struggling, nor necessarily with anything related to mental illness. She specifically said that her pet peeve is “the idea of using an excuse to avoid accountability,” and she points out that the problem with excuses is that people “often complain without any openness towards solutions.” So I think that she has good points, since excuses do indeed foster close-minded irresponsibility, whether or not you are struggling with mental illness.
      You also say that “excuses are probably just people doing their best to explain,” and that may definitely be true. I don’t think the author is condemning people who are wholeheartedly trying to reach out or explain. Far from it, she is decrying, “justifying [one’s] negative actions” with mental illness. Trying to explain oneself is not a negative action; moreover, whether or not one is struggling with mental illness, one cannot justify negative actions, ever (e.g., “the ends doesn’t justify the means,” etc.). So the author may have come off harshly, but I think what she is saying is still true, and we shouldn’t misinterpret or misquote her message, which is pretty solid.

  5. That’s the thing, though. She gives very specific examples of the behaviors she views as problematic, but she has no way of knowing the extent of another person’s inner experience. We use the labels as a kind of shorthand in the hope that someone will understand.

    It occurs to me that her pet peeve is really with a very specific set of circumstances she has encountered, and perhaps her frustration has been justified in those very specific circumstances, but she is striking at the very heart of some of the most common fears of an extremely vulnerable population. This is not spreading the positivity she says she had in mind. I am charitably categorizing this piece as “extremely misguided”

    • Which one? The one that serves to make students feel wary of asking a Dixie State faculty member for reasonable accommodations for issues that clearly warrant them?

      • Again, the author is not condemning people with mental illness. I absolutely feel that she would accommodate students who are struggling. What she would expect from a student is a proactive approach along the lines of, “Can I make special accommodations to take the exam separately? Or with a longer duration?” This sort of thing is quite common. What the author doesn’t want is for students to not show up for exams at all, and then days later approach the instructor with an excuse, “Oh, I couldn’t come. Can I just take it tomorrow?” Both approaches are asking for accommodation, but the former is laudable, whereas the latter–without any additional exonerating information–is just an excuse.

        Of course, the latter case could also be a true example of someone who had a panic attack and literally couldn’t attend the scheduled exam. But view this from a teacher’s standpoint: if no other information is given, it is impossible to distinguish between struggling students and lazy students. If the student did not make a proactive effort to establish additional accommodations, then the author would want that student to at least proffer more information; otherwise, instructors can not justly grade students. That’s part of the author’s point: in order to treat people justly and fairly (no discrimination, certainly not on the basis of mental illness), then when these situations come up, the author is encouraging people to reach out and be honest–specifically because she wants to help them–rather than avoid any responsibility for repercussions.

        • Again, this is not what comes across. A student isn’t giving no additional information when they say “I have anxiety” or “I had a panic attack”.

          She flatly states “…I’m sick of those diagnosed with ADHD using it as an excuse to say they can’t (won’t) listen to me”

          She demonstrated such a profound lack of understanding of the very real deficits faced by someone with ADHD. The accommodation in this instance is simple- understand that they are genuinely trying and grant them a dose of patience. She has already failed to do so by implying that the student simply “won’t” listen.

          Can I tell you how often I have say across from someone I care deeply about, listening to them tell me something I care deeply about, and as I’m looking them straight in the eye, realize that something they said two minutes ago completely derailed my thoughts and sent me thinking about some minimally related tangent? Can I tell you how much it sucks to confess that I totally missed everything they just said?

          When she makes statements like “…I’m sick of those diagnosed with ADHD using it as an excuse to say they can’t (won’t) listen to me”, you can bet a student with ADHD is going to feel profoundly uncomfortable talking to her about needed accommodations. This is extremely invalidating, and profoundly distressing to hear coming from someone who is responsible for an on-campus tutoring program.

          I do think her intentions are probably good, but this does nothing to fix the hurtful impact on struggling students. I can tell you without an ounce of hesitation that I would feel extremely uncomfortable approaching her about special accommodations.

          I think you probably must know or be familiar with her in another context? If so, I’m sure this makes it easier to see the good intent and make you want to give her the benefit of the doubt. I admire that.

          But it also speaks to a need to more carefully consider the experience of the actual student who are in need of accommodation. This opinion piece is extremely damaging.

          • Yes, I do understand how much it sucks to blank out during a conversation. I struggle with the same thing every day. It is incredibly frustrating, disheartening, and even dehumanizing to feel like I can’t carry out conversations with people that I love, and it is incredibly painful to see how frustrated and even angry people get with me when this happens. So yes, I do understand.

            But the point is that we keep trying to carry on conversations, instead of shutting down. I do not refuse to have conversations just because it’s difficult. I don’t abandon conversations midway just because it’s painful. I don’t always succeed, but I try. That’s why I think the article was good. When the author says, “I’m sick of those diagnosed with ADHD using it as an excuse to say they can’t (won’t) listen to me,” I don’t feel like I’m being misunderstood or misrepresented. I feel encouraged to know that I do, in fact, continue to try, and I do not avoid conversations and hide behind my issues.

            I’m sorry that you found it hurtful, but even though I similarly struggle, I found it uplifting. It may be controversial, certainly–frankly, most good opinion pieces are (otherwise no one would read them if they simply stated agreeable things)–but it is premature to apply some blanket label like “extremely damaging” when other people who are struggling do not find it offensive or repelling.

            • And yet you honestly don’t feel at all misrepresented when she suggests that it’s a matter of someone being unwilling to listen? Seriously?

      • If this article is read with an open mind, it can inspire personal growth. This open mindedness begins with ignoring our initial assumptions (“how it comes off”) and defense mechanisms (immediately criticizing the author). When we give into these downfalls, we lose the possibility of personal (and in many cases, societal) growth. After which, what is the point of saying anything at all? To whose benefit is it? Now if we do follow through with an open mind, we may learn something about ourselves, or we may not.

        I just found many of these replies to be shallow and narrow. I believe that the people posting these replies are not shallow or narrow. I believe they most likely have personal stories that predispose them to reply in the fashion which they did. That being said, if we are merely a product of our past experiences, we will not grow.

        So I would say: calm down, read it again, slowly, when you get angry, calm down, think from your point of view, think from others, continue reading. Rinse and repeat. Once finished: collect your reflections, generate a valid opinion that can withstand criticism, internalize it, criticize it yourself, revamp your opinion. Repeat and then conduct a reply.

        Now there have been many good replies as well, so this article has allowed some people to grow or at least recenter themselves in a belief that they once held. So if for that reason alone, I believe the article to be a good piece.

  6. Its what I am trying to teach my kids. Don’t judge other people until you walked in their shoes. My 5 year old boy has Autism, you wouldn’t know it unless you get to know him. No , I don’t use it as a excuse to let him get away with bad behavior because I take the time to show him right from right and wrong from wrong. But, if one tiny , tiny little change in schedule happens. He loses it. What people don’t understand is its not that he is throwing a fit because he not getting his way. He is throwing a fit because he lost control of knowing what’s happening next and it’s Anxiety that makes him throw the fit. But, to the outside world its me giving and spoiling. So yes, I work very, very hard to make sure that are schedule is intact. I write this because I have suffered many years with pretty severe ADHD, no I didn’t lay in bed , or cry about it, or even med up for it. I had to work harder in life, really hard, in life to maintain. But, like all human being I would fall and fall hard. In which case I feel I have never been able to reach my full potential because of ADHD. It is a 100% struggle every second of my to maintain. That’s great author issue got work through from her good attitude about it. But for those of us who struggle daily, even with great attitude will fall. And the last thing I want to hear is others opinion about what I need to do about it. If loved ones really want to help with words and encouragment ask, “What do you need help with.” , or “Do you need a listening ear.” That simple. Therefore, judging should be held at bay until you walk in other shoe s.

  7. I lose my keys on a daily basis… I often have to drive back down the street to verify I closed my garage door. Yea, it gets old. Sometimes you get so tired of it you realize that even getting angry at youself is frustrating. Oh I wish it would disappear. But it is reality for me, and unchangeable. I think you are wrong and indirectly imply one size fits all. You can be provocative, but for me awhile back when the article about people living with PTSD was published in the Independent it hit home. It was healing. It helped. I hope you understand my point. I am not being negative, but personally I found this article unhelpful and for some likely negative.

  8. I love this article! It is very relatable, especially to someone who struggles with anxiety and stopped using it as an excuse. I think many of the commenters became defensive before they even gave it a chance. They misunderstood it and didn’t catch its positivity and hopefulness. So many people do use anxiety and depression as an excuse not to do things that they would want to do. But anxiety and mental illness doesn’t have to define us. I believe the author is talking about people who use whatever illness or disorder they have as an excuse not to even try, and they miss out on some good things in life because of it. And as far as the personal comments against the author go, I have taken classes from Lauren, and there isn’t an instructor more understanding and kind. And I am
    positive that her other students would all say the same thing. The personal attacks are way off base from the truth.

  9. Spot on Ashley, I think that those claiming offense are just bitter social justice warriors. SJW’s are not open to anything that doesn’t fit within the paradigm they have created. It really is a shame, though. The serially offended do make a lot of noise, and their words should be a voice for those that can’t speak for themselves. Sadly, more often than not the message they deliver is perverted truths delivered with divisive tactics.

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