If you had a broken leg how would you tell someone? Would it be “I AM broken leg” or “I HAVE a broken leg”? Unless you are a caveman it would likely be the latter. We recognize that a broken leg is not a representation of who we are. It just happens to be a broken leg. We don’t label ourselves as being defined by our orthopedic status, right?

If you had a broken leg how would you tell someone? Would it be “I AM broken leg” or “I HAVE a broken leg”? Unless you are a caveman it would likely be the latter. We recognize that a broken leg is not a representation of who we are. It just happens to be a broken leg. We don’t label ourselves as being defined by our orthopedic status, right?

Frequently, clients will come into my office, sit down and say “I am bipolar” as their introduction. I am not saying that diagnoses are necessarily a bad thing. Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be freeing as it explains what has been, for many years, unexplainable. We realize “wow, I am not the only one !” We use diagnoses in our field to give us a common language and help guide treatment decisions based on what has been known to work.

“I am bipolar” can carry with it many associations. For some of my more creative clients, they see their bipolar disorder as just a part of being an artist, a necessary condition for creating. No matter how painful our symptoms, it can be more difficult for us to let them go if we believe they are necessary for our identity or that somehow, they are who we are. (For more information on bipolar disorder go to http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/bipolar)

A lot of times I see clients feeling ambivalent as they get better. “Wow, I feel so much happier” and yet “this feels so weird and uncomfortable…am I still me?”  This ambivalence, which is quite normal, can lead people to stop treatment and relapse back into their symptoms. If, however, an individual can see that they happen to have a condition that isn’t who they are, it can be easier to become free from it.

In some ways this reminds me of potty-training children. Some kids struggle with letting go of what looks to us as waste, but to them is a part of themselves. They can get very distressed when the toilet flushes. I have heard kids say “bye, bye poop” as they become more comfortable with the idea of letting go. Hmmm..we begin early in life struggling to let go of our poop and as we age, we struggle to let go of our emotional crap. (As I type this I am being told by someone sitting next to me that I shouldn’t use the word crap. It is a good thing I am able to flush that comment down the drain!)

So, I’m wondering: How do you define yourself? What labels do you use? Are your labels freeing or imprisoning? Are you ready to flush them goodbye? I’d love to hear from you!

12 COMMENTS

  1. My bipolar label is a prison.
    My bipolar label is a prison.
    I have been in a very bad place lately and when I don’t agree with someone I am asked “Have you been taking your medication?” or am told “Stop, you are not thinking clearly right now.” Most of the time I am cut off in mid-sentence by my children and husband because they supposedly know what I am thinking. I find this belittling and it is not helping me to get better. I have been suicidal for a month but can’t ask for help because I know I’ll be admitted to the hospital and given ECT again. I don’t know if there is any help or hope left for me, but I do know that people assuming that my feelings are only due to my illness isn’t helping at all.

  2. My label is, you are so
    My label is, you are so talented if you could just do it, but I can’t. My friends don’t understand what it is like to sit and stare at something, unable to do anything. I am fine for a while on meds, then it is into the prison of “my labels” all over again. That label of being a “failure” with no one understanding the pain and nothingness of my life. I have nothing to live for, no future

  3. I say “My diagnoses es are
    I say “My diagnoses es are P.T.S.D. and depression/ I have been diagnosed with……” or “I have…….(too).” I know and believe that, but when I am in a depression or feel depressed, it is difficult to remember that I am a human being “going through…….”. It is difficult because I do not feel connected to my core. I haven’t thought of a way to say “I am in/going through a depression, etc” without using “I am.” “I feel depressed” would be the truth, but that can be easily misunderstood. people could easily respond with “maybe you will feel better tomorrow….” I have been thought of and called “Lazy”, so that would be a label. Fortunately, I know that “lazy” is not my label. It bothers me when someone in my life thinks that, but I have to stop it there. I used to take it to heart and I would feel worse. I know when I am being lazy, that is easy to identify.

  4. I say “My diagnoses es are
    I say “My diagnoses es are P.T.S.D. and depression/ I have been diagnosed with……” or “I have…….(too).” I know and believe that, but when I am in a depression or feel depressed, it is difficult to remember that I am a human being “going through…….”. It is difficult because I do not feel connected to my core. I haven’t thought of a way to say “I am in/going through a depression, etc” without using “I am.” “I feel depressed” would be the truth, but that can be easily misunderstood. people could easily respond with “maybe you will feel better tomorrow….” I have been thought of and called “Lazy”, so that would be a label. Fortunately, I know that “lazy” is not my label. It bothers me when someone in my life thinks that, but I have to stop it there. I used to take it to heart and I would feel worse. I know when I am being lazy, that is easy to identify.

  5. emholm: I appreciate you
    emholm: I appreciate you sharing your experience. While at times it is so frustrating, and even annoying, when it feels people attribute everything to a condition it sounds like the people around you are concerned and want to help you. You wrote that you are in a bad place “lately” which means that you have had times where you felt better. I hope you are able to reach out and move through this period and into a place of less pain and more hope.

    calli10: It can be so frustrating when those around us just don’t get it. Your are so right that it requires a lot of attention (feeling fine for a while and then the negative thoughts creep back in). I wish you the best and hope you are able to reach out and get the support you need.

    ThiaAngel7:Thank you for sharing your experience and journey!

    1 800 273 TALK is a 24 hr national hotline for those in emotional distress, feeling hopeless or having thoughts of suicide. Please call them to get support and help.

    Paula Bloom

  6. To define self, is to define
    To define self, is to define the very essence our being. The beautiful thing about the humans is that the label can be anything and everything. Labeling the self becomes even more difficult with all the hats that one can wear. Which hat leads the pack? Personally, I could be a competent professional, loving spouse, supportive friend, attentive supervisor, or dedicated daughter. To complicate it further, there are parts of each one of those labels, such as assertive, humble, Type A, ethical, and on rough days, damaged. I’m not sure I could find a label for these parts. For clients that use one label (i.e. Bipolar, Borderline, etc), it often makes me wonder, “What else?” or “What does that mean to you?” I have met clients that experience both, freed or imprisoned. For me, it is more of a prison than anything. I would love to flush the labels and free my ‘self’ from being anything other than what it needs to be.

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