Here’s a riddle for you. If you spent your life growing up a certain way among a group of alien life forms, this would feel somewhat normal to you, right? Inhabiting that space, being that person, it feels very natural. However, in a weird way, you are highly aware that you process some things differently from them – you might be uttering your thoughts in sounds that is known as language, whereas their communication might be different, you also notice that your body functions differently, so while they don’t eat and don’t digest, sometimes it’s hard for them to understand your need for nutrition. You could take this analogy as far as you’d like to, you could say maybe they do not have senses so they perceive the world differently from you, and the sensation of touch is something you can’t share with them, or they never sleep and you have to. So, imagine, you’re living with these life forms, and it really, really, really feels okay – you live together rather peacefully, with a bit of effort you can also meet your needs, it’s not a life you would necessarily complain about a lot… but you just ask yourself sometimes, why you’re so different. One day, a creature crosses your way that looks exactly like you. You see them sleeping, eating, you seem them touch things, and they talk. And they point at you and they say: “Human.” And as you learn more about the humans, you understand: You’re human and the aliens are not. And – there’s an entire species of humans. You’re not the only after all. There are millions, just like you, with your needs, your deficits. And it feels beautiful. Because, while your situation hasn’t been bad, in retrospective you always wanted to know why you’re so separate. Why they don’t need what you need. Why they don’t see and experience the world the same way, and, while you are able to live together peacefully, despite all that, you’ve wondered why they can’t understand you.
There are different stances on labelling people, and I can hear your sigh from miles away. I’ve been thinking about this so much and I’m wondering if other people agree. Mental health experts often times argue that labelling people is like a self-fulfilling prophecy, that it’s not descriptive, but reinforcing the diagnosis. As if people now finally had a shield and an excuse to hide behind.
And I understand that these people exist. People who say: I have this diagnosis, trying would be pointless. I have this death sentence, so trying to reach for life is just useless effort. If I’m hurting people, I just can’t help myself. People who give away their responsibility when they’re being diagnosed. I see that and I don’t agree with it. I don’t think it’s a strong or good character trait to do that.
But I do think that for others, for people like me, a diagnosis, a label, are the first step towards recovery. I like to think, how can I fight something of which I can’t even see the face or know its name? How can I recover from a struggle that’s blind to me, that I can’t put my finger on? To get better, I have to know where I’m wounded. It’s that simple. And sometimes, if I carry wounds for all my life, I can’t see them anymore. So I’m grateful when somebody crosses my way who carries the same wounds, except they know their names and how to cure them.
Labels also bring support systems with them – I’m a human living among aliens, and all of a sudden, I see that there’s this entire community of thousands of other humans who are different in the exact same way, who have the needs I have and who understand how I feel and work without me having to explain it. And I think it’s a beautiful thing. I am not hiding behind it, not using it as a shield. That I might be wired this way is no excuse that I can treat people a certain way or have to stick to its path. I can decide that I will fight. I will try. So for me, knowing the name of the monster I live with helps me to make it my friend. How can I be friends with somebody without a name?
It is a very touching moment to reach out to someone and have them understand you. There is a huge stigma around the word “Disorder”, and I think my stance is prettly clear from my previous posts: I’d like to help destigmatizing it. I want somebody who notices something crucial about me to tell me. My world has changed entirely since my monster has introduced itself to me. It’s also not all bad, you know. There are some parts of it that I really like. But now I know it, now that I know its face, its power over me isn’t total anymore. I have influence upon it, I can grab it by the hands and say: We’re going home and no, no icecream for you today. Oh, and also no obsessing, please.
You can’t tell me that this human doesn’t feel the warm sensation of belonging and understanding when he meets another human that labels him human. After all, that’s just a term for a preexisting condition. The human has already been human. He didn’t become human because somebody labelled him human. I also don’t feel like he would feel compulsed to stick to being human (now that’s where the analogy has some logical gaps, because being human is an identity that’s a lot more fixed than a mental disorder). He just knows that while it’s fine with the aliens, there’s someplace somewhere where people deal with the same problems. And that’s a comforting thought.
So, while I am highly aware about the problematic effects of labels, based upon several experiences I have made personally, it’s important that it also has a lot of positive effects. This depends on the individual and its set-up. The D-Word isn’t your shield to hide behind, but your family greeting you back home.