Louise Thayer helps us escape from the labels we get stuck with.
You, in all your infinite complexity, are not a label. You are not a phrase and you are especially not a diagnosis. It’s difficult enough to navigate our way through life, but when we try to do so by hanging our developing thoughts of self onto a few unworthy letters of the alphabet, we completely sail by the more peaceful waters.
In my own life I’ve been assigned more than a couple of labels and I’ve come to dread, resent, and now ultimately make peace with them. I think we all have to do this if we want to find balance and live our best lives.
Language is (and therefore labels are) how we move the world forward. Without language we would live in very primitive societies based on very limited connections. Maybe we’d all be happier sitting in caves and grunting at one another as we daubed the walls with ground-up flower paste, but I suspect not.
I’m not knocking our collective attempt to define our shared experiences. I’ve formed bonds with some of my closest friends through doing just that, (especially in times of stress and profound need) where we’ve felt safe enough to let our mutual guards down in order to say “Yes, I’ve experienced that too.” We need to have these words, these labels, in order for us to communicate what it is we know that we need to work through mentally.
It may seem obvious that if we allow the labels that we ourselves attribute to our vast beings, (or worse, the words that others assign to us) to define the entirety of who we are, then we miss out on the full scope of what’s available in this limitless lifetime. Like many things of importance, we glance over this obvious point on an almost daily basis.
One of the most important changes I made to my life was to commit to receiving multiple sessions of Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy and I’ve subsequently gone on to become a student of that work. I’ve written about what kind of an impact it’s had on my ability to think past commonplace assumptions. Access to this mode of therapeutic healing has allowed me to shift my state of permanent nervousness to one of more and more equilibrium. When I walked into my first session I remember saying “I’m ready to be done with the stories from my past”—but I just didn’t know how to get there.
By that time, I’d become a clutch of soulless acronyms and the victim of the sum total of the words I’d used to keep myself down. I was a negative check list, full of labels that infiltrated my system in more and more insidious ways.
Over the years I’d been assigned GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), PTSD, Anorexia, BDD (body dysmorphic disorder), Fibromyalgia, ME, CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), and clinical depression. I’ve also, (more recently and initially terrifyingly), been told I have ‘degenerative changes’ in my lower back and cervical spine.
When I’ve inadvertently allowed myself to fall prey to fear of how I might be ‘broken,’ I’ve always felt far worse than I did without that kind of information heightening my concern. Our bodies are primed to respond to fear of injury and this fear can keep us stuck in those spots we never intended to go to in the first place.
For good measure, to add to my own misery, I also piled on many more abusive epithets to that list of acronyms. I was worthless and pathetic. I was an embarrassment to my family. I was a neglectful friend and wife. I was selfish and a useless employee. I beat myself up for my ‘weakness’ even as I handled seven day a week physical jobs and the breakdown of two marriages. I accepted low pay checks because after all, I ‘knew’ that at any time my mental and physical health could crumble and I thought that I was ‘fortunate’ that anyone wanted to give me money to do what I loved.
What I’ve learned through the study of BCST, through the increasing connections with others and through my own sheer, dogged determination, is that I am simultaneously none and all of those labels at once.
In any given instance I can be tired beyond belief and in considerable amounts of pain and yet I can still respond to a cry for help from another human being and come away from the encounter feeling altogether differently myself.
I can be eating nutritional food at the same time as castigating myself for taking another bite and yet now, after I’m done with my age-old cycle of guilt, I can rest happy knowing that I’ve nourished my body well.
I can be terrified after a panic attack but I can bring myself out of it by breathing and holding onto a tiny talisman of hope given to me by a friend or collected on a walk in the woods.
I can acknowledge the labels that still haunt me because observing them without getting hooked into their various connotations is the only way that I know to cause them to lose their power over my state of mind.
I don’t mean to disparage those of us who find that we can relate to any of these diagnoses. I’ve done far too much self-flagellation already and I know that you have too. What I am suggesting is that there’s a gentler, more soft-focused and productive way to allow the words we use as a society, the words we need in order to start our healing, to be just that. Words. When we allow them to dictate our every movement, down to a cellular level, we will find that we spend our whole day in defense mode and our whole lives too if we’re not being vigilant and kind to ourselves.
Our essential nature is to grow and explore, to seek and challenge boundaries wherever we find them and to do they things “they” say can’t be done. I give thanks to the labels that no longer suit me. I hang them up in a closet and close the door gently so as not to stir them into wakefulness. I do this so that I can write my own definitions of what I feel, and subsequently know to be true of the world around me.
It’s not always easy and some days it’s not always possible, but it is a goal worth striving for. Letting go of the need to be damaged was the most important thing I’ve ever done for myself and the universe continues to amaze me with its reciprocity and rightness. This is our natural state, one we knew well as infants, and no label can ever get close to the truth of who we really are.
The physical world—clouds, mountains, humans—is wiggly. When you try to pick up a fish with your bare hands, it wiggles and slips out. What do you do? You use a net. And the net is the basic thing we have for getting hold of the wiggly world. And then somehow we think we understand when we have translated it into terms of straight lines and squares. But it doesn’t fit in nature. ~Alan Watts