Few things can be as scary as a medical diagnosis. While sometimes it can be relieving to have an idea of what is going on, it can also be terrifying to sit in a doctor’s office and be told “I’m sorry Ms. Smith, but the test results came back and you have ________________________ (fill in the blank with a scary and difficult to pronounce medical term). But here’s the thing. You are not your diagnosis. You’re much more.
Stop for moment and consider what a diagnosis actually is. Here’s what I’d say: All that a diagnosis is is a collection of signs, symptoms, findings from exams, and results from testing. There are common findings and results, and we give those names and call them diseases. That’s it! Just a common collection of signs and symptoms that we name. A diagnosis is not a “thing.” Now don’t get me wrong. It is very useful in medicine to have a diagnosis. When a patient tells me they have been diagnosed with asthma for example, I know what they’re dealing with. I know that they have difficulty breathing, that they wheeze, and when they do lung function tests, they have specific results that indicate obstruction in their airways. And with all those findings, we say that they have asthma. But there is no such THING as asthma. It’s not an entity. It’s not like someone walked up to you and handed you asthma. Asthma didn’t just jump on top of you and now you have to carry it around with you. It’s simply a collection of findings that we’ve given a name. Improve the symptoms and change the lab results and you no longer fit the diagnosis.
We relate to illnesses and diagnoses like they’re an entity though don’t we? It’s in our conversation when we talk about health. “Did you hear about Bill? He has irritable bowel syndrome.” Or “my mom has rheumatoid arthritis.” And it can go even deeper. Often we start to relate to our diagnosis as us. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m asthmatic” or “She’s a diabetic?” When we relate to a diagnosis as part of (or all of) us, we give it a life of its own. It doesn’t have its own life though.
I’m not saying that getting an accurate diagnosis isn’t important. Knowing what is going on with your health is vital information, but don’t stop at the diagnosis. Remember exactly what a diagnosis really is. Remind yourself that by treating the cause of an illness, the symptoms will go away and with them, the diagnosis. When you can get to the bottom of why you’re experiencing certain symptoms or are having certain lab results, you take control of your health. You are not your diagnosis. You may be someone experiencing specific signs, symptoms, lab results and findings that we call a disease, but you are not a diagnosis. You are so much more than that. Isn’t that a relief?