Sunday, September 14, 2014

Labels and Random Thoughts

**Disclaimer: No, I do not condone violence or setting clowns on fire, even though clowns are creepy.


The other day I ran into one of my neighbors. She happens to be going through something serious, and I wish I could change her situation. I feel helpless.

We didn't talk much about that. Understandably, she didn't want to, but she did share with me an experience she had recently with some of our other neighbors and former neighbors who had gathered for some kind of service. I didn't attend. For her, it brought up memories of her past. Sadly, the two of us were mistreated by the older kids in the neighborhood, but neither of us shared our experiences at the time. Apparently, things haven't changed much. I won't go into detail, but I'm glad I wasn't in attendance.

I felt like an outsider when I was a kid. I used to get wildly upset and felt so incredibly hurt that I attempted to move things with my mind. Yeah, I was weird trying to emulate Carrie before I even knew about these kinds of phenomena, but I wanted to smash things in some kind of horrifying way, mostly to express my frustration. I wanted some fucking power in situations in which I had none.

It's a drag when I see these people now, and I feel obligated to smile and pretend everything's fine. Fortunately, I rarely have these encounters. And for the most part, I'm over it, but when I hear that some of them are still acting in less than kind ways, it stirs things up again. I have to remind myself that each of them had their own issues to face as kids. Just because they were in the popular crowd doesn't mean they were or are happy.


I am no longer the stupid fat kid who comes in last. So I tell myself.

People limit themselves in all kinds of ways. We put restrictions on ourselves by using self-sabotaging methods, or we don't believe we can do certain things. We get caught up in how others view us and how we view ourselves. We listen to criticism both from others and from inside our own heads. When we fall into trying too hard to define ourselves, we lose sight of who we might become.

I know other people who were teased or bullied as kids can relate to a certain label following them into adulthood. For some, they will always be the fat kid or the skinny kid or the weird kid no matter how much they change on the surface, but as adults, we can get stuck labeling ourselves in other ways. It takes a lot of work to overcome the labels we stick on ourselves.

Some people are determined to fit in somehow, so they continually look for additional labels to place on themselves instead of trying to accept who they really are apart from these classifications. They take online quizzes, talk about their symptoms and check boxes on surveys in an effort to supposedly further describe who they really are, but how does this really help? So your online survey says you have borderline personality disorder. Now what?

It's fine to identify with a group or a diagnosis. We do it all the time, but most people are unaware of why they do it. We want to be part of a team, fit in, or we feel more secure if we can be a part of this or that group, religion or organization. We gather strength from others going through similar difficulties in life. That's all normal and in most cases healthy. The problem is when the identity placed on us becomes too deeply part of who we are and how we define ourselves. It's when it starts influencing our thinking about ourselves and puts limits on what we believe we can do that it becomes a problem. We can get so caught up in the label that we get stuck.

The truth is that we are not easily put into restrictive little boxes, but some of us keep trying to make it that simple. Humans are more complex than that. General categories don't fully describe who we are deep down. We may show characteristics of an eating disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder or autism, but that's not WHO we are. It's not so cut and dry. One trait may bleed into another, and these symptoms don't represent the core of who we are. It's somewhat complicated when it comes to mental illness, because there's no blood test or brain scan to confirm most of them. A diagnosis is often based solely on symptoms. In some cases it's accurate, and in others it's probably not.

It's easy to get lost in a relationship or a role in life that seems to define you. That's why older women can easily slip into an eating disorder when they are faced with an identity crisis after their children leave the nest. Some women can suddenly be faced with wondering who they are apart from being involved mothers, but all of us struggle with identity from time to time.

I want to believe that I was part of something, that what I did mattered. Running was my identity at one time, even if it is no longer. It was what gave my life purpose, even though much of it was done in illness. I don't want to think that it was merely my inner turmoil manifested in physical activity. I want to believe that the records I set inspired those behind me and opened doors for women, girls and athletes. I want to believe that what I did then and what I do now means something.

But the truth is that much of the time lately I'm so unhappy I have a hard time wanting to be around. It's not even all that related to the injuries, pain or situations in my life; it's more related to depression, some kind of chemical fuck up in my head. But it makes it hard to participate in any significant way in life, and it also makes it hard on the people around me, which causes me great guilt. That's why I rarely talk to anyone about it. Instead I'll dump it here, hoping it might offer someone else struggling some kind of consolation that we are not alone. It also makes it difficult to see any good I do, because I'm so focused on my mediocrity.

I see many people fighting through cancer or other illness and bravely moving forward. I often wonder if I have the energy anymore. I fought through two severe life-threatening illnesses, and I still wonder why. I have good moments; there's no doubt about that. Still, how am I contributing to the world?


Before anyone thinks this is a cry for help or sounds the alarm, rest assured that living with a label of bipolar means I know that when the lows hit, there's not much to do but ride them out and hope those highs or even some middle ground is somewhere in sight and somehow worth the anguish.

Am I bipolar? I don't know. It runs in my family, and I have the symptoms and an official diagnosis. However, I have tried to move away from adopting the label. I also know this illness isn't me. I don't have to get caught up in it. It's something I go through from time to time, but it doesn't have to define me. I don't have to let it swallow me whole like I did in the past. I can, if I choose, fight it, knowing that there's no real way to win, but I also know that I can choose to keep moving forward, even when I don't feel like doing so. And I still keep one step ahead of the eating disorder. Maybe that can be seen as my victory.

Everything's alright now. Everything's fine. 

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