Nothing says old news like a campaign bumper sticker from an election that took place years ago. Though Facebook memes have (arguably) eclipsed bumper stickers in the pop culture pantheon, I still enjoy seeing everyone’s enthusiasm stuck colorfully on the back of their car. My personal favorite are stickers that have been mostly scraped off, save for a few vestiges that won’t quite go away. There’s just enough left of that “Ross Perot for President” sticker to let everyone know who you supported back way back when, but it’s not quite gone enough to make your bumper look new. It may be an open question as to whether a car old enough to have a Perot bumper sticker can ever look good, but that’s for another blogger to tackle.
Driving down the road and noticing ancient stickers, it occurred to me that psychiatric diagnoses can be similar. It’s a sticker that someone (maybe a doctor, maybe a therapist, maybe you yourself) affixed at some point, based on some behaviors or symptoms that were going on in your life at that time. Maybe you’re the diehard that’s still holding out for Perot’s next announcement. If so, you can sport that bumper sticker proudly and wait for the CNN Breaking News Alert that Perot is running again. But a lot of us may be ready to move on from those old bumper stickers, especially after we’ve worked through the situation in therapy.
And that, in a nutshell, is the tricky part of diagnoses. They have a way of following you around. People have a way of “owning” their diagnosis in a fashion that can be detrimental to recovery: “I can’t do that, I’m depressed.” But does that diagnosis really define you any more than an old sticker defines you? I would argue that it does not. So how do you scrape that old diagnosis off and get back to the shiny, new you?
In a larger sense, this lesson also applies to (negative) things we have internalized about ourselves. Did someone say something ugly about you years ago, that you still see when you look in the mirror? By playing that old recording over and over in our mind, we may be “diagnosing” ourselves in a real way.
Ask yourself a few questions. What changes have you made in your life since that sticker was slapped on your bumper? Have you learned new coping skills? Have you removed toxic people from your lives? Have you made lifestyle changes that reduced or eliminated the behaviors that led to the diagnosis? Sometimes diagnoses of illnesses can be life-long and represent symptoms that will remain challenges forever. But, even if that is the case, you’re not “bipolar.” You’re a “person with bipolar disorder.” A nice car with an old sticker is still a nice car.
No need to proudly display those old bumper stickers off. Scrape them off and let them go. After all, Perot ran over 20 years ago!
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture