I don’t know about you, but I have taken so many online quizzes, I should be an expert in every condition I have ever worried about having. To use a tired cliché, if I had a nickel for every online quiz I have filled out, I’d have six yachts and a mansion the size of Tom and Gisele’s. Always a bit of a hypochondriac, and very inclined to consult Dr. Google (so obsessively during my pregnancy that my husband threatened, very seriously, to disconnect our internet), I have spent hours trying to diagnose myself.
In my humble opinion, there are three problems with lists of Symptoms or online quizzes pertaining to mental health. First, many of the questions are very obvious and therefore easy to answer in the negative and, consciously or unconsciously, skew your response. Second, what they don’t make clear is that many symptoms of mental illnesses are a matter of degree. They affect everyday functioning in a variety of areas, making it difficult or impossible. Third, they are a little too easy to see yourself in, and they can get you wondering if you’ve got six more disorders than you originally thought.
Take, for instance, this list of the symptoms of Paranoid Personality Disorder, or PPD, as found on WebMD.com:
- Doubt the commitment, loyalty, or trustworthiness of others, believing others are using or deceiving them
- Are reluctant to confide in others or reveal personal information due to a fear that the information will be used against them
- Are unforgiving and hold grudges
- Are hypersensitive and take criticism poorly
- Read hidden meanings in the innocent remarks or casual looks of others
- Perceive attacks on their character that are not apparent to others; they generally react with anger and are quick to retaliate
- Have recurrent suspicions, without reason, that their spouses or lovers are being unfaithful
- Are generally cold and distant in their relationships with others, and might become controlling and jealous
- Cannot see their role in problems or conflicts and believe they are always right
- Have difficulty relaxing
- Are hostile, stubborn, and argumentative
Let’s break these down. Who hasn’t doubted others, believing (sometimes rightly) that others are using them? Some people really are users, and many have a reasonable skepticism of human nature. Who doesn’t withhold personal information, from some people or in certain circumstances? I can certainly remember very unpleasant instances where information I shared in confidence was not only passed on, but used against me. Some people are very forgiving and don’t hold grudges. Some are naturally not this way. My father is a case in point. Who likes being criticized and always takes it well? I have always read hidden meanings into innocent remarks and overanalyzed tone. It wasn’t until I was put onto a mood stabilizer that this began to change. Who doesn’t have baggage that causes them to occasionally misinterpret an innocent comment as an attack on their character? Conversely, who hasn’t encountered a nasty person who really is attacking their character? Who hasn’t worried about marital infidelity? In an age of open relationships, swinging, Ashely Madison and connecting with old flames on social media, infidelity is simply more possible than it used to be. Some people are, or can be at times, cold or distant. Often this is an emotional defense mechanism. Some people are controlling or jealous, although this is not a good way to be, often because hurtful experiences in the past have caused them to approach others in this way. Maybe you are or maybe you know someone who thinks they’re always right and others around are always the problem. This is incredibly annoying, and incredibly common. Difficulty relaxing? Welcome to my Type A personality. Hostility and particularly argumentativeness can be personality traits. Stubborn? Meet my brother, and my maternal grandfather, God rest his soul.
Let me say something very clearly, before I go any further. If you have been diagnosed with this disorder, please do not question your diagnosis as a result of this article. A medical professional has evaluated you fully and come to this conclusion. I am truly sorry that you struggle with something that must be causing you a great deal of suffering. I hope you have a good doctor you trust who is helping to bring you healing and comfort in your life.
The point that I am trying to make is this: For those of us who have not received this diagnosis, it would be quite easy to see ourselves in some of the symptoms listed above. We could then assume, wrongly or perhaps rightly, that we have this disorder. Self-diagnosing is always risky and can often be very discouraging or frightening. Only a doctor or other mental health professional can make a diagnosis. It is THEIR job, and never ours, to decide if we meet the clinical diagnostic criteria or not. It is also their job to explain what these symptoms look like “on the ground”, as opposed to how they appear to us with our lay interpretations and non-clinical knowledge. Online quizzes, or resources such as WebMD.com should be used for informational purposes only.