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?
4 thoughts on “On Labels and Mental Health”
Totally with you ! A friend has helped me see too though that I can replace the word crutch with boundaries. I have things I know I am working on but also knowing I can’t do it all at once means I have to have some boundariess. There are the things I am working on and things I know I could but can’t right now. – Still working on all of it!
People pleasing to avoid conflict- Is there a tshirt for that. We could sell lots of them. Spent an hour with my counselor discussing this and other things. I Own my labels/Diagnosis: ADHD, cronic depression and anxiety. I especially like the ADHD- It explains things that have been going on since I was a child. Why I was smart, but couldn’t finish exams, why I couldn’t keep up with book reading in English, why I was asked to participate in a special program for people with poor reading speed. comprehension as a college Freshman. I say own the labels in order to conquer them. When you get that people pleasing to avoid conflict thing beat- tell me how!!
I hope it’s okay for me to comment on here because you haven’t met me in person and I hope that it doesn’t make you uncomfortable to know that people you don’t know are reading such a personal blog, but when I came across your blog, reading your posts about mental health HELPED me and made me feel better because it makes me not feel so alone and/or crazy in my own struggles with mental health, so I want to thank you for being so publicly honest. It’s hard to talk about mental health, even to people you know VERY well because of the stigmas and judgments some people make. To see someone who has also struggled with depression and anxieties be so bold to share about it publicly makes me feel like I’m “okay” and I’m not so crazy or wierd for also having similar difficulties. I hope that you will continue to share these things on your blog because you are really helping people feel better who are too afraid to talk about it.
Now about your original question – yes, I think labels both hinder me and help me. I’ve been diagnosed ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, both of which have contributed to very significant social anxieties, somewhat like that which you have described. Before I knew I had Asperger’s, I would be embarrassed to do things like flap my hands or cover my ears when things get too loud because I didnt want to look like I was just being overly sensitive or rude. Now, sometimes I kind of give myself an excuse to fidget/stim or cover my ears because hey, I’ve got Asperger’s and sometimes that makes me more sensitive to things, so I have a right to do it. In the past, I think I gave myself permission to isolate myself because of the social difficulties associated with AS. On the other hand, labels have helped me too because they help me understand my weaknesses better so I can work on them and improve them. Part of my social anxieties stem from knowing that I have accidentally offended or upset people so many times by saying/doing the wrong thing because I didn’t pick up on all the body language and/or implied meanings of words that would have told me I was stepping over a boundary or not meeting an expectation, but knowing that I have Asperger’s helped me realize that I needed to work harder to train myself to try and learn what body language means and how to read between the lines so I can not make people uncomfortable. Having the label has taught me that I need to push myself harder to be in social situations, go to parties, learn how to be more reciprocal in relationships so that I can study and learn more social skills because ultimately, I’ll be happier learning how to form more meaningful relationships with people. I think that what helps me keep from using my labels as an excuse is to remind myself that challenging the weaknesses of my labels will ultimately make me happier and a better person but at the same time, I have to allow myself to mess up without guilt. Trying and failing is okay. Forcing myself to go to a party with my fellow music majors knowing I might accidentally say/do something offensive is better than staying at home and making no progress at forming friendships. I hope this helps, because reading your blog has helped me.
Olivia – Comments on this blog HELP me so much because it allows me to connect with people without facing the world which I find overwhelming at times!
Did you see the other comment from Elizabeth? I like what she said, she said she has been calling them “boundaries” instead of crutches and I think that is EXACTLY what you and I need to say. That as we try/fail at finding where our limits are, we are creating our boundaries as to what we can/should do.
You want to know something funny? I think this is why some of my most meaningful friendships are made with people I run with…because we don’t make eye contact. We talk on the trails in the woods while we run and we pour out our souls but we don’t have to look at each other! HAAA!
Thanks for sharing. Your comment makes ME feel less alone!