Snippet 01 – Labels and Such

With the pleasantries out of the way and the thorny issue of my name well and truly covered – I hope! – in Reveal 01 – Propernounaphobia, I’ll turn my attention to information of a more general nature. Something more loosely autobiographical, possibly, but I feel like a bit of an egomaniac even using the term, so let’s call it ‘general, mostly useless, and unsolicited information of the personal variety covering various stages of my existence.’ And seeing as how that’s not even the slightest bit cumbersome as far as descriptive terms go, let’s acronymise it and call it a GMUUIPVCVSME. As The Great Master Time steadfastly refuses to stop ticking, I’ll ask you to consult Google for the pronunciation key, and, with the housekeeping out of the way, I’ll end this painfully droll digression and move on to the juice.

I’m – nay, we’re – moving away from labels a little. As the medical model, the talking cure, and every other form of treatment, have grown up, they’ve recognised the value in not assigning people to categories and leaving them floundering there forever more. He’s bipolar, so he’s a maniac. She’s schizophrenic and thus dangerous. He has autism, ergo he can never fit in and so we’ll treat him differently all the time and exacerbate the problem. Much has been written about this departure from broad-stroke categorisation of mental maladies, and sadly, a great deal more needs to be written, for, as ever, we’re inching rather than leaping towards Progress.

Credit where credit is due, however, and although I am not in the slightest bit convinced by some of the alternative approaches – above referred to as ‘every other form of treatment’ – out there, it must be noted that they were always reticent to pigeon-hole people in the way that the medical model and the talking cure are/were so fond of. Not, mind you, that I’m entirely convinced by any one approach; multidisciplinary approaches look by far the better option. But yes, these labels, these linguistic crosses hoisted during tempestuous conditions upon the backs of souls already creaking under the weight of their own woes…are these cursed labels any good? Are they any good to me?

Well, yes. And no. In this an era saturated with information, people armed with a diagnosis and an inquisitive mind do untold damage to themselves during even the briefest of sessions on the internet. New symptoms suddenly ‘appear,’ and old ones are magnified to levels uncannily similar to those described as worst case scenario in respected medical journals. Bloggers’ well-intentioned contributions aren’t without blame either! While hypochondriacs might be the biggest victims here, I don’t believe they have a monopoly on psychosomatic ailments.

The misused information effect pre-dates the internet, of course, with old wives tales and distorted, second-hand accounts doing the damage in days of yore. Labels, then, can appear to be one component of hampers so packed with malevolent assortments that simply by looking at them you put on weight.

Two sides to every coin, nevertheless, and my own experience has taught me a lot about the usefulness of defining something and knowing what you’re dealing with.

It took me a long time to understand that anxiety was both a real thing and a real thing in my life. Like many of us, I felt uneasy a lot of the time when I was younger, and I assumed some of it was normal, which it is. However, the degree of severity and duration of symptoms are what set growing pains apart from ailments, and so as I advanced through the stages of development, I began to recognise that my difficulties were symptomatic of an underlying problem. Anxiety was its name, or social anxiety, or generalised anxiety, or any of a whole host of names. But recognising it wasn’t enough at that point. I’d been introduced to the concept, but I’d yet to read the fine print, or, for that matter, the main text of the article.

Similarly, I recognised the symptoms of OCD – itself a type of anxiety disorder, but distinct from non-descript anxiety in its own way – in myself somewhere during my teens. Again, though, I didn’t really do anything about it nor did I fully accept it or understand the ramifications of suffering from it. Excessive hand-washing came to me some years later, and during periods of high stress, I can be seen walking around my house at night wearing white cotton gloves over hands generously smeared with soothing moisturiser, so dry are they from repeated washing and drying. In fact, I think it’s the drying that irritates my skin the most – it’s like towels grate the skin. Still, I’m lucky in the hand-washing department; I’ve encountered cases where people draw blood in the quest for cleanliness.

OCD takes over. Too many behaviours to recount here so just a few examples for now. As a teenager, I wandered around the house checking doors and windows repeatedly. I don’t believe I ever found a single one to be unlocked, and so with no evidence whatsoever to go on, I carried on checking them. It’s a perverse and transient high, the satisfaction derived from finding them to be locked. That they’re locked pleases you; you stroll away feeling a little better but it’s fading; an inner urge convinces you they might be unlocked and you find yourself back at square one. Such was the silliness I engage/engaged in when OCD takes/took over.

So I had my labels. Anxiety and OCD. Yet somehow, years passed before I sought treatment. I didn’t take them seriously enough or think they were worthy of a doctor’s time. Whatever it was, it prevented me from accessing badly needed help. I think it’s only when a condition is fully acknowledged that we begin the recovery process. And that act of acknowledgement often, but not necessarily, involves: labelling the problem; accepting that the label might set out or point to a useful framework for tackling the problem; and remembering that the label does not in any way define you. People have problems. They do not become their problems.

Still, we need to exercise restraint when it comes to labelling, and we will. In time, we will. Psychological problems are relatively new on the scene; well, tackling and acknowledging them is new anyway; so we’re still only learning.

Much like myself, then: still learning. I’ll hopefully continue to do so. I’m coping better now, partly due to educating myself on the matter, and partly due to mostly accepting my situation.

I’ll crack on. Things are good.

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