Something I would like to write about that has, certainly over the past five months, had a large impact on my life are “labels”. I have felt over the past while that more and more I am seen as a reflection of my illnesses rather than as myself, just with a few added problems.
I’ve always been a bit annoyed by so-called “labels” in any capacity, as I’ve often found myself being restricted by them. In the past I have been labelled as my cultural identity; either Swedish or European, but I don’t really feel either of those to be fully correct. While, yes, I am Swedish I’m also technically half German from my biological father (my birth surname was Wassermann – Swedish and German? Say hello to my Hitler youth appearance) but to label me as such would be wrong as I have no personal connection to that as an identity. From my stepfather I also hold a strong American influence, and hold dual citizenship between Sweden and America, but again, the latter is only on paper. I have been labelled in terms of my sexuality which for some reason tends to be a bit of a grey area for people – why does it need to have a label? I’ve gone through my life so far being attracted to both men and women, and have had relationships with both. Yet I don’t feel the need to call myself straight or bisexual, because it doesn’t change anything and if anything I find those restrictive. I’m not typically “straight” because I have and can find women sexually attractive, and neither am I “bisexual”, as my attraction towards the same sex ebbs and flows; for now that isn’t something I’m interested in at all, but never say never for the future. The point is: why does it matter what I call myself? Does it change anything? Does it change your view of me? Possibly – but only because we live in a society that tells you it does.
If labels in these instances (culture, sexuality) mean so much, shall I start introducing myself by my mental illnesses or as a victim of rape? That may sound extreme, but think about it – it’s the same thing. And those certainly would change your view of me. The reason I write this as because I was prompted by an event I attended last night in fancy London town. I was asked by a friend if I wouldn’t mind making a speech at a Charity evening for a Mental Health campaign, and I thought sure, why not? If anything I’m probably the perfect example of someone to talk about that. So I made my speech to a room of around 300; I spoke about my conditions (minus any explicit information regarding the catalysts of my PTSD and OCD other than “sexual assault”), my experience of treatment, and daily life as someone who is “mentally ill” – and that’s when it hit me. Mid speech, I stopped. I was actually standing there labelling myself, and it made me stop and think. I apologised for my pause, and explained why. I stopped following the notes I had written and began to talk about these so-called labels, and I asked very openly to the audience: If you saw me in the street, would you see me as someone with a mental illness? I saw countless people shaking their heads, and of course, why would they? I am a fairly normal looking, actually very plain woman. I’m tall, thin, I have blonde hair and big eyebrows. My eyes are blue and I have a lot of freckles. Other than my physical features would you look at me and say, “She has sometimes crippling anxiety”, or “Oh look, she has PTSD”. No, you wouldn’t because my illnesses are indeed mental and they can’t be seen physically like you would with a broken limb. I asked the audience, if I indeed had a broken leg for example – would you label me as such? No, was the answer, so why do it with a mental illness? They are both health conditions yet one has so much stigma and negativity attached to it and labels are forced upon those that have them. I fully belive that your actions are a reflection on who you are as individual, but why should this be the case for something that isn’t my fault and I sometimes have little control over? While I know there could be an argument of to what extent you take that view, but purely on the basis of why should I only be seen by something that pigeonholes me, it makes sense. At the end of the day – I am a human being, and that is all that is relevant. Anything else is just a side note.
Afterwards so many people spoke to me, even thanked me for my bravery and honesty. But again, why? Talking about a problem I have isn’t brave. Is it brave to tell people that I’m allergic to latex? Or that I’m incredibly asthmatic? No, because these are seen as normal, mundane even. It all boils down to the negative stigma attached to Mental Health, and when someone like me – seemingly “normal”- speaks out and says, “Hey, hold up – I’m mentally ill” people have to double take and reevaluate their view on it.
I always take a non judgemental approach to people. I don’t care who you are, who you know, where you’re from or what you look like – you’re a human being just like me. How you treat others and your attitude is what cements my view on you – nothing more. I don’t care if your rich or poor, healthy or ill, I will give you the same respect as anyone else. So for the love of shit biscuits, can we please stop treating people by their label? All it does is create divisions and unhappiness. Labels should be no more than a formality; something that needs to be documented for the case of treatment and recovery, not for how you interact with one and other.
I’m very lucky that all of my family and friends are very open and non judgemental people. You generally will find that if you’re not, I won’t take much to do with you on a personal level. I made my dislike of being known as a “victim” and being treated as such after my rape abundantly clear as it was causing a lot of friction. People understandably were wary and cautious of what to say to me and how to act for fear of upsetting me and also through never being in that situation before – I understand it was only with good intentions in mind, but I actually despised it. I am not a “victim” – I am a person who has had something incredibly shitty happen to them, but I am still me and the same applies for my mental health conditions. They are a formality and nothing more.
I write this in the hope that it might change how you perceive others, or at the very least make you think. I hope that if it does it will actually make you see people for the better, and not just by negatives.
Anyway. Preaching the masses aside – things are still generally on the up: I had my full first day of NO compulsive behaviour, get in. I’m also going through a bit of a digital detox by means on having my phone switched off a lot of the time, feels pretty good. In the run up to our move I’ve rejoined my old gym back in Hackney and I’ve been going a lot to try and get back into the routine for teaching. But serious gripe about that – I got asked out on two separate occasions at the gym so far, can this just fucking not happen? Who asks someone out at the gym?! Please just leave me alone to be the sweaty disgusting gremlin that I am. It’s also the start of my trial this coming Monday – well, I don’t know for definite if it will go to a full trial yet but I’m going in with the worst scenario in my head so that if it doesn’t happen I’m pleasantly surprised. I actually feel sick thinking about it, eugh.