Opinion: Self-Diagnosing is a Valid Option

A fidget cube rests on a desk, each side meant to provide something to stimulate a person’s brain. Fidget cubes are something seen by members of the autistic community as a tool to facilitate repetitive motions that combat sensory overload and anxiety (Photo illustrated by Juan Rodriguez).

Not everyone gets the medical care they need. With the way things are, you better be on death’s doorsteps if you’re even considering talking to a doctor.

In all honesty, I am grateful that my therapy and my psychiatric visits weren’t something withheld from me during my time in high school. Much like writing, these visits were a chance for me to get a better understanding of who I was.

When I received my diagnosis of depression and anxiety, I wasn’t surprised. I figured something had been off for a while. What caught me off-guard was that the psychiatrist had written down autism spectrum disorder as a part of her diagnosis, as well as a recommendation that I be provided whatever accommodations deemed necessary.

It felt sudden. I wasn’t expecting this part of the diagnosis to be a possibility. Truth be told, I am still hesitant about accepting this. For that reason, I have always wanted a second opinion from a medical professional; for the past four years, I have struggled to get one. 

In the immediate aftermath of the diagnosis, I began to do my own research into autism and the many ways it presents itself. No source would prove more valuable than the lived experiences of actual autistic folk. 

Slowly, I began to gain a decent understanding of the many symptoms that may be present in an autistic person. I caught brief glimpses of something familiar, of experiences I had considered to be a part of my everyday existence, the more time I spent within autistic circles.

Being able to associate my fondness for introversion with autism was one of the crucial steps I took toward developing a new lens through which I could observe the world. My apprehension towards my psychiatrist’s diagnosis remained, but I was starting to see why she had made that assessment. 

I eventually reached a point where I needed to talk with someone about what was going on. I talked with my school’s counselor about trying to receive a second opinion on the diagnosis that my psychiatrist gave me. To receive that second evaluation, I needed my mom’s approval. 

The moment I asked her about the possibility of getting evaluated for autism, I knew I had made a mistake. She didn’t yell; it was a quiet rage, her frustration at the person I had become over the course of high school. I didn’t bother to ask any more of her after that. 

When I graduated, the hope was to have enough space between us that I would finally be able to satisfy my need to know, only to realize that my insurance was up and that I wouldn’t have the ability to access a psychiatrist anytime soon. 

I can only make an educated guess as to why my mom was apprehensive about seeking out a second opinion. I want to hope that it’s the possibility that she knew it would be expensive. I can understand that, and I want to give her the benefit of a doubt. But the possibility that constantly lingers is the one I feel more certain about. 

I know what she thinks of mental health. There’s a reason I don’t tell her about the stuff that keeps me up at night. It falls into my hands to look after myself. 

Self-diagnosis has been how I’ve managed to go about my day. If I can’t have the second professional opinion I seek, then I have to look at what other people on the spectrum have said. If there’s anyone who I trust to talk about autism, it’s the people that are autistic. 

One of the many positives of the rise in discussions surrounding mental health is that people are more accepting of the reality that other people operate and navigate reality in a different manner. Social media in particular has allowed for communities  that inform people of what it’s actually like to live a life where conditions like autism contribute to how a person navigates the world.

“Many autistics recognize how difficult the diagnosis and self-discovery process is,” said Jillian Enright in an article for Medium. This is made more difficult by the alarming amount of misinformation that is widely shared, both online and in person. This is even more harmful when this misinformation is spread by professionals and groups claiming to be advocating for autistics, who then propagate stereotypes, outdated information, treatments, and ‘cures’”.

If they say that noise-canceling headphones are good to avoid sensory overload, then I’m gonna look and see which of those sorts of headphones are the most affordable so I can avoid having a meltdown in busy public areas. If they recommend stimming to relieve stress or to keep my mind active, then I’m going to play with my ID card in between my fingers or bounce my leg up and down so that way I can keep my mind focused on a particular action. 

As it is, the modern world is a challenge to navigate. I would feel confident in pursuing accommodations that addressed my specific needs if I was able to receive a second evaluation. Those sorts of things exist for those that genuinely need them, and I worry that if I were to make use of them, then I would be cheapening their importance. As important as it has been to self-diagnose, I won’t say that it is a proper replacement for getting professionally evaluated. 

Those who have the money and don’t have any other obstacle in front of them, I strongly encourage you to seek out a diagnosis for whatever condition you believe yourself to have. Your money is a privilege I wish I could make use of.

For the rest of us that have to bear the brunt of ludicrous healthcare expenses, self-diagnosis is the best option we have available most of the time. To have a system such as ours that makes our mental well-being a secondary concern to that of profit-making is a great evil. 

Self-diagnosis is only effective to a point. If someone diagnoses themselves with ADHD or some other stimulus-deficiency condition, medication isn’t going to be an option for them. That requires an actual evaluation from a medical professional, a legitimate prescription and a patient that went through the health system. That self-diagnosis is limited to informal means, of self-medicating with enough coffee that your mind is able to function at the base level as the neurotypicals around you. 

The discussion around self-diagnosing can’t be had without also mentioning the impact social media has had in bringing awareness to a variety of mental conditions such as ADHD and autism. One of the biggest concerns that come up when considering the role that social media plays in self-diagnosing is the very real possibility that the way a person interprets their symptoms may be wrong. 

“While you might believe you have ADHD, it could actually be anxiety or something else,” said Dr. Adeola Adelayo, a behavioral health expert and a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “It’s really important for people to connect with the right scientific information and professionals so they can get the right evidence-based treatments” 

If you find yourself in a situation where self-diagnosing is your current choice, I hope you’re medicating safely. Your health deserves to be a priority, and it’s a tragedy that we’re forced to live according to a system that puts profit over health. You are deserving of the medical care you are not receiving. My only hope is that you are someday able to get it. We’re all supposed to be entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right?

About Juan G. Rodriguez 45 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

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