On Labels and Mental Health
I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health labels and how they can help us and can simultaneously hold us back. I was talking to my friend about how reading Jenny Lawson talk about social anxieties was so eye-opening to me. I was like, “I HAVE THAT! I DO THAT!” It helped me kinda create a specific target to aim for when I was trying to move past some of those anxieties and be social. “Zoot, It’s just your social anxieties. You can do this!” But sometimes it also gave me an out, “Um…yeah…that’s too much for my social anxieties.”
Sometimes it helps me name a thing that seemed vague and scary, making it easier to conquer, but other times it gives me an excuse or a crutch to lean on.
Now, I’m not saying a label crutch is a bad thing. Being able to tell someone, “Hey, I have severe driving anxieties so you’ll need to drive,” when I know it’s too overwhelming is very helpful. But I have to keep my personal denial in check to make sure I’m not using it as a crutch too often. I only use that particular crutch a few times a year so I think it’s okay. (Oh, man. I’d love to use it every day. If I were rich there’s two things I’d never do: Cook or Drive.)
But I’m constantly doing that mental check. Am I using this label as an excuse? Or am I acknowledging self-care and knowing there are some hills I don’t want to die on? And that’s where the gray area comes in. Donnie is a great partner in that journey because he allows me to use things as a crutch, he has seen my anxiety play out and knows it’s not “fake” and sometimes not easy to overcome, but he also knows that I CAN overcome it and so he pushes me – often further than I would on my own.
The perfect example is doing the triathlons years ago. He pushed me past the, “BUT I AM TOO SCARED!” zone and gave me a goal and said he wouldn’t push me any further if I would at least try to reach that one goal. That goal was the Olympic Distance Triathlon and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done or trained for and I did and was glad I did but I also said, “NEVER AGAIN,” and he nodded in agreement. So he pushed me into my fears and gave me a goal he – knowing me well – knew I could meet whereas I did not believe I could.
I never specifically sought out a partner in my mental health journey but I’m so glad he was able to step into the roll.
There’s a lot “traits” of other mental health challenges/diagnosis I face, labels that I don’t write about here because they involve stories that I share with other people. But I’m constantly checking in on those traits associated with those too. One of these common traits is, “People-pleasing in an effort to avoid conflict,” which I do TO A FAULT. And sometimes I allow myself to do it even when I know it’s not in my best interest, just because, “But look! This guide says it’s a trait I exhibit because of this classification I fall into!”
Um. That’s not how any of this works.
And that’s what I’m constantly trying to check in with myself about. I can say, “Hey, Donnie, I think I’m people pleasing to avoid conflict and I probably should instead tell you that this thing you did upset me,” because he loves me and understands the self-preservation instinct that makes me do that. But other times I just own the behavior, “Oh, look at me avoiding quitting that volunteer position because I’m trying to avoid conflict when I really need to quit it because IT IS SUCKING THE LIFE OUT OF ME.”
Eventually I quit. But I avoiding quitting for a long time because my label told me that I avoid conflict! It’s what I do!
Do you see this? Do you see labels both helping give you something concrete to battle but also maybe giving you a crutch even when you could probably stand up on your own? How do you keep that in check, and allow yourself the crutch sometimes but also standing on shaky legs to build strength sometimes too?