A brain tumor appears as a malformed blob on a brain scan, shining white among the surrounding gray tissue—a certain and devastating diagnosis. Doctors can begin treatment immediately, trying to save the most important organ in the body. The brain, however, is also vulnerable to many more, much less visible ailments.
Consider the case of Allie Orlando, a 23-year-old social service coordinator, who has received a plethora of diagnoses since she first saw a psychologist at 14. First, it was a generalized anxiety disorder. Next, she was told she had depression. Then, when she was 17, it was settled: She suffered from a borderline personality disorder. But when Orlando travelled out of state for college, she began seeing a new psychologist who strongly disagreed with her borderline diagnosis. Meanwhile, she continued to struggle and entered the hospital for suicidal ideation her sophomore year. The doctors there agreed: Borderline wasn’t the right diagnosis, and maybe she should stop taking the meds she had been prescribed.
“I was just frustrated because the stigma attached to borderline is very strong,” Orlando says. She had been open about her diagnosis in high school, but felt the “borderline” label may have scared some people off. She recalled her boyfriend at the time searching the web for her diagnosis and saying: “Oh God, no.” After that, she kept quiet about her diagnosis, worried it would drive friends away. “I’m sure it also affected what meds I was prescribed. It took a few years to find the right ‘formula’ of meds.” While the doctors recommended some medication that helped, it was a matter of trial and error, since Orlando still doesn’t have a concrete diagnosis today.