Overcoming Labels and My “Spiral” with Schizoaffective Disorder by Jena Garza “Spiraling” is the word that I often use to describe the beginning of my mental health journey. I was confused about what was real and what was not. I became aggressive to those I love and those who were attempting to help me. I was disruptive and uncooperative. After my behavior and emotional health hit rock bottom, I landed at Wellfound Behavioral Health in Tacoma, Washington. There, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Receiving this diagnosis was painful. I had some educational background in psychology, and I never would have predicted that I would receive this label. I worried about how the diagnosis would change my life. Would people judge me? How would my family see me? However, as I navigated treatment and my education, I came to understand that diagnoses and labels themselves don’t define who I am. Diagnoses are the words that describe a cluster of symptoms that individual people experience. For me, my symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, mania and depression. On bad days, I am paranoid, agitated and confrontational. But these behaviors are not who I am. They are a small part of my mental health condition. On a good day, I am creative, artistic, optimistic and energetic. My whole life I have been a kind and compassionate individual. I will gladly give up my seat for someone else who needs it more. These are the qualities that define me, rather than my mental illness. However, I am also learning that I am someone who may need extra help, and I am learning how to accept that help. Since being discharged from the hospital six months ago, my friends and family have banded together to show me the utmost love and support. This has been the foundation I am currently standing on and what has led me to move forward in my recovery. I am painting again. I am listening to music. I am learning how to laugh and smile again. I have found hope. I am in constant recovery, and this is only the beginning. My mindset has changed since I received my diagnosis; now, “hopeful” is the word I would describe my current state. I am not yet back to my old self. I still have miles to go. But I have made strides, and I know that I can continue pushing with faith in myself and with hope in my heart. I am no longer spiraling, but rather, evolving in the right direction.