Why We Need to Look Past the Labels of Our Illnesses
People are taught from the very beginning to label everything and everyone. We place labels on people based on the color of their skin, their disability, whether they like sports or not, what their religion is, etc. The list goes on and on. For me, one of the hardest parts of having mental and chronic illnesses is having all of those labels stuck to me like stickers – and the stigma that comes with each label.
When I was first diagnosed with a panic disorder, I was too young to understand what it really meant. I thought I was being called “crazy” for being scared of so many things. I thought I was abnormal. As I got older, I realized this wasn’t abnormal at all. One in five people have a mental illness at some point in their life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it is not a contributing factor in assessing my worth as a person.
The hardest label for me to get past was my diagnosis of fibromyalgia. The easiest way to describe fibro to someone is to say “widespread muscle pain and tenderness,” but that doesn’t really cover it. Fibromyalgia is hypersensitivity to certain textures or feelings as well. Sometimes wearing jeans feels like my legs are burning. Sometimes poking me playfully can cause a lot more pain than you’d expect. My body reacts more to pain than it should, but other people can’t see that. Pain isn’t visible, so it’s hard to believe. The diagnosis of fibromyalgia even has a negative stigma attached to it in the medical field. They’ve started using other words like “amplified musculoskeletal alain Syndrome” to diagnose it because they don’t want the hate of other doctors for it. That also made me a little weary of my diagnosis.
Trying look past my own labels has been a very difficult challenge for me. Whenever I meet new people, I always see how long it takes them to notice I have something or how long it takes me to casually bring it up. It normally starts with me telling them I have asthma and then it progresses from there. It was very difficult for me to introduce myself as just me when I kept thinking that these labels were part of me. They made me
who I am. It took me a very long time to realize they don’t.
My labels do affect me. I can’t ignore that I have them. However, my labels do not determine my worth. I am so much more than my labels, and so is everyone else. Illnesses do not define us. We have to live with them and cope with them, but they don’t define us.
Focusing on labels gives them more power just like focusing on our limitations can limit us even more. If we’re absorbed into thinking only of our labels and other people’s labels, we forget to see the actual people living with those labels stuck to their skin. Just like religion and skin color, our illnesses do not tell people who we are. We are people. We are creative, athletic, determined, strong, artistic, mathematicians, etc. There’s something unique about every single one of us. Our illness does not define us.
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