I Think I Have Some Kind of Disorder

Reader’s Question

I have come to believe that I suffer from some kind of disorder. I’ve thought it might be Asperger’s Disorder or perhaps Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

I recently saw the film The Assassination of Richard Nixon, with Sean Penn. The film is about an unlucky, divorced man who gets obsessed with how rotten society is and tries to kill the president (I think Taxi Driver has some similar themes). I identify a lot with the main character in the film. I recognized in the character my obsessiveness and inability to let go of things. Also, when I was a kid, I would have severe outbursts, which my mom had to caution the daycarers about. I remember a hiking trip when we couldn’t cross a river as planned, and I got very upset for a long time. I also had really troubling obsessions that I would kill myself (although I had no reason to do so, as my childhood was as happy as it could have been) and intrusive thoughts that I would cut myself with knives.

I’m 24 now and I still have problems. I have to erase text-messages from girls I’ve dated to be able to forget about them. I also have serious questions about my identity. I’m unsure about my sexuality, and I’m halfway into three different college programs that I haven’t finished because I’m unsure about what I want to be. I think other people would describe me as calm (which I translate into “controlled”) and quite shy but otherwise normal. But I think I’ve learned how to put on a face in order to fit in, whereas underneath I’m very unsure.

I wonder what syndromes I could have and what I should do about them.

Psychologist’s Reply

Many times, people hope that once they’ve found the right diagnostic “label” or labels, they’ll end up having a better understanding of themselves. But the truth is that most of us are more unique and more complicated than any of our diagnostic labels can capture. From what you say, you have a tendency to have obsessive thoughts and to have a hard time letting go. You also say you have some uncertainty about several aspects of your identity. Some of the things you describe are common features of certain syndromes, aspects of personality, and even personality disorders. But you don’t report any of the other crucial elements of having a full-blown disorder, including the types you mentioned. Besides that, many of the things you report are also common to individuals who are simply struggling with some maturational delays. So, taking a stab at a likely diagnostic label seems not only unwarranted but most likely unhelpful.

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It would probably be a good idea to discuss your concerns with a seasoned mental health professional. It would also be a good idea to concern yourself less with what diagnostic labels you might receive in the process as opposed to really getting to know yourself a lot better. Your therapist can help you determine what aspects of yourself need attention or improvement and best ways (e.g., psychotherapy, medications, etc.) to go about accomplishing those ends.

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