I’ve been thinking about labels today. Humans are very keen to label those around them, to determine which category they fit into. I guess this is an evolutionary thing: the ability to make snap judgements on whether someone is likely to be friendly or hostile, share resources or just be out to steal your goats. Even now we judge people on how they look, talk, act, dress, the music they like, the books they read – and we are surprised when we discover something about them that doesn’t conform to the category we had assigned them to.
Whilst these shortcuts can be useful, they can also be negative. This is especially true when it comes to mental illness – the stigma is widespread and as a society we are indoctrinated at a young age into the belief that unusual = scary. ‘Psycho’, ‘lunatic’ and ‘headcase’ are all perjorative terms for someone with a mental illness. ‘Crazy’, ‘mad’, ‘insane’ and ‘nuts’ are marginally less so and tend to be used in casual conversation rather more. But mental illness is still seen by society at large as something to be scared of, something other and frightening. So why am I so keen to find my diagnosis, to be labelled?
I have spent most of my life trying to hide the worst excesses of my illness and explain the more obvious, more socially acceptable aspects of it. It’s tiring working out just how much to trust someone with, whether to go the whole hog (I have depression and anxiety, but also rapid mood cycling, panic attacks, occasional visions – oh and I self-harm) or just give them the sanitised version (I have depression). I look forward to the day when I can say “I have X condition” because then I won’t have to explain so much or hide so much. If I can tell people that there is a name for what I am, a recognised medical condition, then maybe it will stop all the well-meaning “Have you tried just being more cheerful? What have you got to be depressed about?” kind of conversations.
I realise that of course there is unlikely to be a nice little box for me to slot neatly into, because people just aren’t neat like that and mental illness is even less so. But right now I’m holding out hope for something more definite, more certain, than I have at the moment because I am tired of my my mental state being a nebulous and ill-defined mess. I want a label.