Too many labels

We seem to have a multitude of labels or descriptors applied throughout our lifetimes. Some we choose, some are foisted upon us in anger, and some are lovingly given. We have nicknames, endearments, and epithets. We have diagnoses, scientific classifications, and social terms. Most are not happy with a simple “human being,” not descriptive enough.

As far as my own personal labels are concerned, it doesn’t matter to me what someone else chooses to call me (good or bad). However, I am tired of all the changing labels of psychiatric diagnoses. There are no definitive tests (i.e. blood tests, MRI, etc) to clearly diagnose a mental illness. We would have a world of self-diagnosed crazies if everyone were to look at the lists of criteria for mood disorders, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, or any one of the other myriad of diagnoses.

Now into my ninth month of severe depression, my team of mental health professionals seem to have thrown up their hands and decided to just lump me into a couple non-specific categories. This has caused an odd reaction, in which I seem to have confusion piled on top of everything else. After about 15 years of referring to myself as having bipolar disorder, I no longer know how to define myself in psychiatric terms and it surprises me that this is a troubling situation. As my friend, Joel Sax (who writes the amazing blog Pax Nortana-see Links), says something like (sorry Joel, can’t remember the exact quote) stigma could be eliminated if we could just call it illness…leave out the mental. Because really, when one thinks about it, if our brain is not working correctly neurologically (or for whatever other physical reason) couldn’t that simply be classified as “illness?”


Some silly food for thought:   When my children were small and my ex-husband demanding, he came home to a messy house and said “What the hell do you do all day?” That’s when I came up with the following:

Goddess of Everything – Must be available at a moment’s notice

Chief Financial Officer
Personal Banker
Cash Manager
Loan Officer
Accounts Payable Administrator
Budget SupervisorStrategic Planning Executive
Schedule Manager
Event Planner
Social Director
OrganizerAdministration Executive
Benefits Administrator
Shipping & Receiving
Safety Specialist
Law EnforcementInformation Technology Officer
Research Specialist
Technical Support Manager
Network Administrator
Word Processing Specialist

Animal Welfare Manager
Pet Care
Dog Valet
Dog Walker

Clothing Specialist
Fashion Consultant
Laundry Wench
Alterations Manager

Director of Health
& Emotional Well-Being
Education Counselor
Career Counselor
Drug Safety Specialist
Pharmacy Manager
Nurse Practitioner
Relationship Manager
Administrator of Medical Records

Food Service Executive
Grocery Management & Supply

General Maintenance Manager
Interior Designer

Head of Transportation
Mapping Manager
Automotive Maintenance

Materials Management Executive
Errand Runner
Non-Food Supplies Procurement

Peeking outside my box

This weekend I learned that I could function at a relatively high level, even if for a limited number of hours at a time. I even stood up and participated in a discussion in front of about 200 people. It was a short blurb, but it was spontaneous, I made myself understood, and even received several positive comments after the fact. I attended a Rotary District Conference, and found that I did not have to hide in my protective box. My labels weren’t showing either…This Woman Has a Mental Illness and is a Domestic Violence Survivor. I was simply me, proud Rotarian.

I was afraid to join Rotary because I didn’t see what I had to offer. It made no sense to me that a shattered woman with bipolar disorder would be welcome to be part of a group of “normal” adults.  I’ve helped at many events over the years (Greg is a Rotarian), but never really thought about joining, figured my labels would glow as if they were burned onto my forehead. But my friend Kristi, who happens to be the District Governor’s wife, was very supportive of me. She helped me to see that any of my self-perceived flaws were not relevant. As long as I was willing to participate in a positive manner, there was no need to be afraid. So about a month ago I was inducted. But still, I felt like I should just melt away in the corner during the meetings…who would really care what I had to say? Besides, in the past it was drilled into my head (pre-current husband) that I was stupid, useless, crazy, etc. I’ve always tried to stay as invisible as possible. That’s one of the consequences of domestic violence, you eventually believe you are who you are told you are. I went from a very high functioning Office Manager of a computer reseller with multi-million dollars in sales, to a blubbering idiot who couldn’t do anything without being told how to do it (what to wear, what to eat, what to say, etc).

So back to the conference…I can’t tell you how many days before the conference I practiced saying “I’m retired,” “I’m a jewelry designer,” “I stopped working to stay home with my kids.” I tried to figure out how to answer the inevitable “So what do you do?” question. But it never came up. Again, I was just me and that was all that mattered.

During one of the meetings, we were split into groups which discussed different aspects of what Rotary does. My group talked about Projects. I thought about what types of services were available to survivors of domestic violence in my small town. I knew we had a shelter, but what other support were the women offered? I thought of all the things that I wished someone would have helped me with, and all the support I did receive, and was there anything our club could do to help these women. I had no idea how to even start or suggest a project, and asked that question.  I said I was a domestic violence survivor and was hoping there was a way our group could get involved with helping in that area. In addition, I said I had bipolar disorder and wanted others with the illness to know there is hope, and also wanted to find a way to help eradicate the ignorance of those who didn’t understand or were afraid of the mentally ill. Nobody batted an eye or looked at me funny, my head didn’t spin around and I didn’t fall over foaming at the mouth. Instead, I had initiated a discussion of what was the best way to start projects.

Each night I went up to our room before my husband, because I had reached my limit of normalcy. There was too much aural input, too much acting intelligent. It had been a very long time since I had to function at that level for that long. I just had to be in a quiet room by myself. Sunday I was exhausted, and was unable to do anything else the rest of the day after we returned home.

But I did it, I peeked out of my box and slowly pulled myself out. And for a few days, that highly functioning person who used to exist, climbed out of the safe box and fully participated in life.