TikTok Diagnoses and Thoughts About That

I have been reading lately about how viral TikTok-ers think that everything is a trauma response and how everyone’s ex is a narcissist. I can see why this garners views and engagement, and it is very tempting to subscribe to these ideas.

Today I want to write about how nuanced this all is, and what my experience has been with self-diagnosis of a cognitive disability or three. Spoiler: There are more questions here than findings.

Self-diagnosis TikTok is *HOT* and *BOOMING*. The specific phenomenon I am referring to is women using TikTok as a jumping off point to realizing that we may have ADHD, be autistic, or have other disabilities.

And it’s a compelling narrative: high-achieving women hitting all of the milestones of a K-16 education with flying colors, but always feeling a bit strange, or not knowing how to really concentrate, or needing constant validation, or not being able to relate with others, or not being able to walk in a straight line. A disability going under the radar due to high marks and good acting/masking skills. And then the pandemic happens and we are inside with a lot of time on our hands and we are scrolling TikTok app and BAM! a creator clocks us (pun intended) spot-on as “the overachieving older sister who realizes later in life that she is autistic/is depressed/has ADHD/whatever” and we’re like “I AM SEEN!”

So what’s next, exactly? For me it has looked like a crusade to understanding myself, self-diagnosing as multiple things at once, and being called a hypochondriac. And, honestly, I get it, but it’s hurtful. It has looked like feeling seen for the first time, taking informal psychological tests with licensed therapists to confirm my hypotheses, and then, confusingly, having those tests not match my hypotheses. So I have lots of questions…

  • Should I distrust the (racist, sometimes problematic) system of psychotherapy and follow my instincts and TikTok?
  • Do I listen to the people on TikTok who say “If you have to ask yourself if you’re ___, then you probably are? The systems around you have probably failed you”?
  • Have the systems failed me?
  • Am I now self-pathologizing and feeding into systems that benefit from me thinking I’m “broken”?

From what I understand, formal diagnoses of some disabilities can be expensive and time-consuming and they really only take place when the problem is deeply affecting someone’s life. So I understand why these self-diagnoses are so popular.

Many of these disabilities show up as collections of symptoms. An Instagram post I saw yesterday (I’ll try to link the post if I find it), mentioned how two phenomena called two different things (for instance autistic inertia and ADHD [insert noun that I forgot] – actually have the same qualities: being mentally blocked from starting a task or being unable to stop doing a task. The author took it a step further and wondered if it would be better to see them as the same symptom and work on methods to combat them directly. So, a few more questions:

  • Is it possible to move to a symptoms-based model and still practice self-compassion without a diagnosis?
  • How do I treat symptoms while still accepting myself?
  • Why do I want to treat the symptoms? Would doing that make my life better?
  • How much would treating these symptoms benefit the people I love?
  • How much of wanting to treat those symptoms stems from need for productivity?
  • What type of self-improvement would benefit me the most?
  • Can I sit with doing nothing and not trying to self-improve or self-diagnose at all?

That’s all for now.

Here are some sources I’ve been reading through to ponder these questions, including one about how to download the data that TikTok has about you!:

  1. https://quillette.com/2021/08/03/when-youre-diagnosed-with-autism-by-tiktok/ 
  2. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/tiktok-data-privacy 
  3. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2021/03/10328745/mental-health-self-diagnosis-tiktok 
  4. https://www.insider.com/how-tiktok-helped-me-find-out-i-had-adhd-2021-10