Tuesday, 20 September 2011

To Label or not to Label...!

Having read a very interesting blog post yesterday on one of the blogs I follow, as well as accidentally finding another interesting blog yesterday evening, and then reading this news article today, it's made me start to think once more about labels and how useful they actually are.

For me, personally, I found labels in the beginning to be quite scary. Well, at least the descriptions for them. On the one hand, the label is quite bland, coming along with or without the pretty picture. But then, as soon as you start to read the description behind that label... Then the panic starts to set in, as in "shit, am I really that terrible, that nasty to people??!" But then you calm down a bit after the initial shock and start to read the fine details more calmly, realising how broad that description still is. But it's still essentially a recipe list of problems, which can be overwhelming at times. All those little things that we are suddenly confronted with, forced to deal with! It can be quite a lot for someone to take in!

Luckily I'm one of the few that are able to take those details and put it to good use, but I am aware that not everyone can. For me, it's useful having the label, as once I'm over the initial shock it gives me a place to start researching, a place to build upon my own coping mechanisms, as I know that I'm already aware of all the problems there - none of what sits within the description is new to me; it's just a shock in the first instance seeing it all listed on one page, your life grinning back at you all in one go! But once I'm over that shock, I realise that I knew it all anyway - it's just that now I have a name for it.

Many others will just see the label, with all it comes with, and start panicking. The trouble is so many mental illnesses have had a bad press at some point that the instant reaction for a majority of people is one of disbelief, "that's not me! How can that possibly be me?!" They just simply do not want to accept it. Well, I can understand that, as I was like that myself years ago. The difference between that person from years ago and the one that sits here now is a level of acceptance - having already started accepting who I am, another label comes as no major shock to me.

Medical labels can be useful. They can be a way to instantly communicate across to someone a generalisation of problems, whether it be speaking to a fellow sufferer, or speaking to a medical practitioner. They can help you find specific support or care quickly and easily, without all the fuss of having to explain all the finite details for the umpteenth time. Yet, on the other hand, they can be quite harmful - anyone can put on label and wear it with pride, essentially getting away with murder in some instances. Does that mean we should keep our labels private?

But what people don't realise is that we all have labels that we put upon ourselves, not just medical labels, which can range anywhere from our work to our hobbies. There is the one lady who is an administrator, but in her spare time she's a railways enthusiast. Or how about that man over there? He's an accountant, but in his spare time he's a dancer. Actor, musician, painter, artist, sailor, sculptor, doctor... The list is endless. How, in that instance, does it make medical labels any different? There are many people who spend their entire lives living by false labels, pretending to be something they're not, from benefit cheats to attention seekers. The difference comes, perhaps, in that with most cases they're not trying to get away with murder!

At the end of the day, all that those labels give you is an overview. Anyone can put a label on, wear it with some degree of pride, try to define their lives by it, try to explain away their actions by it. But what that label doesn't tell you is who that person is underneath. It is for that reason that I generally don't use my many labels in the first instance, when getting to know someone (unless it is via a particular specific-interest forum) - people can too easily gain a false impression of who I am before they've even begun to get to know me. In the same breath, when meeting someone else I try to not let their labels dictate my view of them, learning about who they are with and in spite of their labels. If governments want to stop people from abusing labels and using them as an excuse for their actions, then they should be doing the same.

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