The first time I consciously encountered a label was around the age of 13 or 14 when I came across the words ‘straight edge’. Back then I was heavily into >punk< and prided myself with ‘being straight edge’, which comes from the subculture of punkheads who abstain from alcohol, tobacco and other (recreational) drugs as an answer to all the excessive behavior often found in that particular music scene (although also in others).
I knew what it meant and I knew it was something that fit me. A label that described that part of my life poignantly. And yet, I never felt quite perfectly content with it.
I’ve had various experiences with labels over the years that came in categories like ‘something I think about myself’, ‘things other people say about me’ and even ‘medical diagnoses’.
When I fell into that hole of depression and self-harm and general darkness, I was desperate for a label in form of a diagnosis. I felt like it was the only way I could be treated, I felt like only if I knew could I go on. And then, when the first diagnosis came up in therapy (‘Borderline Personality Disorder’), I was not impressed, to be quite honest. Sure, now there were medicinal options opening, but the pain didn’t go away. The darkness stayed and my heart was still heavy. I was simply not satisfied. Even when I started medication and began to feel better, I was not okay with being ‘a Borderline patient’.
After some time of feeling better but not quite being okay, the diagnosis was revised and changed into ‘Bipolar Disorder’. At that point I didn’t even care anymore. I cared about the med changes that were happening because of it, but personally I didn’t want a diagnosis anymore. Because it didn’t really help me. Years and years of therapy had made me understand that I don’t need those kinds of labels. Because my health and my mind and the darkness don’t really care.
And then…when I started to think about labels, I understood why I didn’t like them: because they come with expectations and responsibility. For me, personally, that’s a much bigger burden.
Music that I like is just music that I like. So when someone asks me what kind of genre I listen to, I’d rather tell them about the bands that I love than talk about genre labels. The same goes for books and movies and all the other stuff. And for my disorders, as well. I’d rather explain it directly than try to put it under some sort of big word umbrella and have someone misunderstand because they think of something completely different when I say ‘eating disorder’.
But you know what? Labels are still awesome. Just because I’m not satisfied with labeling myself, doesn’t mean that other people aren’t as well. I’ve met quite a few people who felt more free and more like themselves when they discovered a label that fit them perfectly, like someone who stumbled across the definition of ‘asexual’ or ‘homoromantic’ or ‘genderfluid’ and suddenly felt okay and at home in themselves because they realized they were just perfectly fine all along and not sick or broken.
Labels mean something different to me than they might to you or others and that’s absolutely great.
I mean, I don’t get satisfaction from jello either and some people think it’s the best thing ever.
I want to be comfortable with myself and if that means that labels are a no for me, then that’s how it is. But Merlin knows I’ll never judge someone for a label they chose to be more comfortable with themselves. Because sometimes labels are just labels. And sometimes they’re lifesavers and heart protectors and healers of minds and empowerers and that’s totally awesome.