Labels. You go into a grocery store, pick up an item, and read. Sometimes you understand the variety of ingredients that present themselves and other times the names are overwhelming. However, these labels do not only exist on the food items we indulge in. They are present all around us. Sometimes I think about the ways I have been labeled. The quiet one (I am a bit of an introvert). The snob. The weirdo. The sad one. The loner. My ingredients list is lengthy and has often been misinterpreted. I will tell you though that I am not a fan of labels. There is too much space for misinterpretation and not enough room for growth. Once a label is placed it is difficult to break away from.
Now I watch as my daughter, who is 13, struggles with these same labels. She has been bullied since starting middle school; she is now in 7th Grade. The names she has been called range from things like fat or ugly, of which she is neither. She gets called a lesbian for wearing her hair in a cute bob, sporting skinny jeans with cool Anime tees and Converse, and not wearing a lot of make-up. At least a few times another student has told her to “just kill herself”. Truth be told my daughter loves art, all things Japanese (including their pop music), and walking to the beat of her own drum. She is not a lesbian nor is she fat or ugly. Simply put she is her own person and requires no labels. The bullying has worn her down though. It led to her verbalizing a suicide plan in December and this led to a diagnosis of depression/anxiety due to the bullying.
So now I hear myself telling my daughter things I once hated hearing, but she is young and I want to keep her safe. I understand all too well the stigma that exists around mental health issues as I have lived among it. My years of struggling with PTSD and major depression came from a very traumatic moment in my younger years, yet many people would never look at that big picture when I used to try to share my story. They would not hear what triggered the PTSD/depression combo, but instead stayed focused on the fact that at the time I struggled with a mental health issue. I would have people tell me never to mention my diagnosis or I would not make friends, get a job, or I would have people talking about me. This in turn made me feel worse. I felt like the weird person or dirty. Labels. Now I sit here telling my daughter to remain silent with her classmates about her diagnosis. I worry about the extra bullying that would come from that. People are afraid of things they do not understand and this could lead to bigger issues among her peers.
There are times I feel a great amount of guilt telling her to be silent, but I know how difficult the bullying has been for her and know she is not ready to handle people picking on her diagnosis. I instead explain to her that someday she will be an amazing voice for many. That when the time is right she will talk about her journey and help teens just like her. There is no denying that the issue of bullying and the mental health issues + suicide attempts that follow are becoming a huge problem among our youth. Look at the recent statistics for children between the ages of 10-19 and you will see how prevalent the issue is becoming. So I hope that a time will come when it will be safe for my daughter to talk openly without stigma, but for now I will be her voice.
Mental health labels can be very painful. There are still people who tell me to be silent about my past travels. People at times treat me like I am fragile or broken because of where I have been. There are many people who think that those who live with a mental illness either cannot live stable lives or will never be able to walk away from their mental illness. That is when I stand tall and tell people I would not take back a single second of my travels with my dark friend. Eight years ago I ended my journey with this friend, but the gifts I was given were abundant. I was given strength, belief, and confidence. I learned how to keep an open mind and was molded into the person I am today. I was given the ability to empathize with many a patient. I am human just like every one else in this world. No labels.