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Growing up, I identified myself by a list of core adjectives, which hasn’t really varied over the years, leading me to know myself as inquisitive, bookish, perfectionistic, and compassionate, amongst other things. Simply by listing these words, I am creating a concept – an image of the person I claim to be built around – words describing my personality, skills, perceptions, and ideals.
From birth, we’re taught to attach meanings to words, which is the beauty of language; words are merely symbols put together in a particular sequence, yet in time they start building pictures, known as representations, in our mind’s eye.
Representations include not only the meanings of words but also memories they recall and feelings they invoke, such as joy or fear.
Social and cultural groups create representations within a paradigm, the attitude of the overall group, and we add to them with our own experiences. As we live and see more, we label elements of our world so we can better understand our environment and interact with those around us.
While it has advanced society as a whole, the idea of labels and being labelled by a stigmatized representation has been extremely triggering for me while in recovery. And as such,
I am saying no to the labels and stigma surrounding mental illness.
Instead of validating and reinforcing the concepts of shame and deviance which surround mental illness, I believe we should feel empowered to build our own ideas about who we are and how we want to live – both through recovery and beyond.
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The default setting in society is “normal,” and this norm is defined by the environment and the society itself. Anyone believed to be outside of the norm is thought to be deviant, and a likely target for being judged, ridiculed, or thought of as weird, incompetent, and insane.
This can place an incredible amount of pressure, shame, and guilt on those suffering or recovering from mental illnesses.
No! Anyone seeking help should never, ever be shamed, guilted, or ridiculed for admitting their deviance from the social norm. They are not people to be shunned, they are people who need to be met with compassionate understanding. The bravery it takes to admit to mental health struggles and face the societal firing squad is nearly unparalleled.
Instead of being shamed, they should be praised for their courage.
At the same time, our culture dictates the illnesses themselves to be held in an overly negative and feared light. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard some version of the phrase “I didn’t feel like I was sick enough…” They speak of not being addicted enough, anxious enough, depressed “enough” – to me, this means at some point in their life they were led to believe mental illness lies at the extremes.
No! There is no lower limit to mental illness. One does not have to be suicidal to be depressed, nor do they have to be at a dangerously low body weight to have an eating disorder. Any thought or behaviour detrimental to someone’s well-being – no matter how small – is a worthy cause for seeking help.
When symptoms are compiled and analyzed, they form a diagnosis. For someone with a mental illness, this means your behaviours somehow produce a concept of your disorder to which a label can be applied. EDNOS, anxiety, depression, addiction, OCD – these are words we use to cluster symptoms and give an overall theory of what is going on in a person’s mind at a given time.
Public opinion, out of a lack of understanding of the struggles faced, has magnified and stigmatized diagnoses. This is an immense problem in and of itself, but I believe it pales in comparison to the trouble those suffering face while confronting these diagnoses. Our illnesses inherently attempt to destroy us from the inside out until we recover. A direct diagnosis, I would argue, is likely their greatest ammunition.
So many suffering, myself included, have incredible difficulty seeing past these labels. They morph into something so much bigger than a term identifying a cluster of symptoms or behaviours. Our disorders have the ability to pervert and transform diagnoses into titles and identities.
Soon, these symptoms and labels are not just our actions or mentality, but they become a way of seeing ourselves. We begin to use them as personal descriptors, measures of our self-worth and capabilities, and ultimately a way of life to maintain so we can keep intact who we believe ourselves to be. No!
These terms are nothing more than medical jargon. They were never devised to impose limitations on us. While they may classify our behaviours and place us in boxes, they do not in any way confine us or trap us there. Our minds are the creators of those particular barriers.
To truly recover, we need to reclaim our true identities, the ones these bogus, stigmatized labels have kidnapped and usurped.
We are not our disorders – we are so much more.
Normal, suffering, recovering, relapsing, recovered…these are words – words we can give as much or as little meaning as we choose.
By giving the labels, standards, representations, and stigma surrounding mental health and recovery less power, we are able to claim far more power for ourselves. Learning to say no to external ideals and standing up for my own definition and concept of self is by far the greatest power I have in conquering my disorders.
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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.