Why do we have to label everything these days?
Have you heard this recently? I hear it a lot. Someone said in reference to me not long after I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia that I wear my diagnosis like a badge of honour, why would I want to be ‘labelled’ disabled?
I’ve written a post like this before, but the reason it occurs to me again in the present, is that a person close to me is currently seeking diagnosis for a mental health condition and we’ve talked a lot about labelling, how it’s relevant and important as well as what it means for them.
But first, let me tell you what it means for me….
I agree, to a point, that there are indeed ‘labels for everything these days’ and I think it’s important not to build a layer of labels for yourself in regards to a medical condition without seeking medical advice. However, I also think that giving a name to what you’re going through can be a major step in the right direction to start your journey of emotional acceptance.
I suffered chronic pain for 17 years before I had a diagnosis. I’d had test after test, even several surgeries to investigate my symptoms and I was constantly told my blood work was normal, there was no infection, no tumour, no growth, no obvious cause for my pain. Can you imagine what that does to your mind when your body is screaming but people are constantly telling you there’s nothing wrong with you? I didn’t have to imagine, because I felt it. I felt like I was going crazy, as though nobody in the world could understand, because my pain didn’t have a name. It didn’t have a source or a known cause, so therefore it must have been a figment of my imagination.
Of course eventually getting a diagnosis didn’t mean I got to walk away with a prescription and suddenly become pain free, but it did mean I had something to work with, to learn about, to accept and to refer to.
With regards to my mental health I was misdiagnosed as being clinically depressed at the age of just thirteen, later I was assessed for other mental illness including bipolar disorder. What I actually had was reoccurring bouts of extreme mood swings, depression and anxiety that came at the same time every single month, related directly to my menstrual cycle and were all caused by the condition Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or (PMDD) as it’s commonly known.
Do you know how many times I was told I was a psycho during these episodes? How many nights I cried myself to sleep believing I was indeed a psycho and that nothing could ‘fix’ me? There were a lot of nights!
An old teacher of mine wrote in my year eleven leavers book that we are all sleeping beauties for approximately 30 years of our lifetime – approximately one third of our lives are spent asleep. I can pretty much guarantee, that I’ve already wasted a good 5th of my life awake all night wondering what the hell is wrong with me.
So yes, I’ve ‘collected’ some conditions along the way. I’ve used my diagnoses to explain said conditions and to educate people who are and aren’t party to my life, on what these conditions mean. Without labels, I was merely pissing in the wind trying to elucidate exactly what my suffering meant,
My friend who I spoke of earlier has been experiencing symptoms of several mental illnesses, namely Borderline Personality Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is of course wholly possible this person has both, and learning of and monitoring of symptoms are all important tools when seeking diagnosis. You can use any label you wish, but when it comes to medical diagnosis I personally feel it’s important to have all symptoms assessed by a medical professional. That doesn’t mean you have to accept their diagnosis, you are within your rights to challenge your doctor and see a different one if you aren’t satisfied with their opinion, just be careful not to rely solely on the internet as your main resource tool.
With social media running awareness campaigns and days popping up all over the place to recognise conditions, we are getting much better at accepting labels, but as with everything scepticism is still rife.
Below is a direct and unedited quote from my Anon friend….
“I think it’s important to get a diagnosis, a lot of the time for your own sanity. You can drive yourself mental, Googling symptoms and trying to find a rational explanation for why you feel crazy. It also makes things easier for the people close to you. A diagnosis can explain so much and it helps the people who love you to understand you a bit better. I myself have never wanted to be labelled, but if it helps people understand why I shut off sometimes, then I’ll take it any day.”
A diagnosis is important. A label can help some of us come to terms with our circumstances and are also valuable tools in educating others on our restrictions as well as our needs. In my experience when a person dismisses someone else’s struggle it’s usually because of lack of understanding, and that’s exactly the reason that labels and diagnoses should be taken seriously and literally. I can’t speak for people who use non medical labels because they don’t apply to me personally, but what I will say is, labels give people clarity, they give the person who uses them the ability to express what those labels mean. They provide definition for people who question and fail to understand them, they are not worn as badges of honour, but are tools for distinction, and they aren’t there to be questioned, but to be acknowledged.