I know it’s 2am and I know I should be finishing my 500-word reflection (sorry Tommy!), but this feels more pressing right now (I’m good at prioritising!).
Today, kids, we’re going to talk about labelling things!
I’m actually going to talk about 2 forms of labelling that are pretty important in my life in one way or another. No I’m not talking about labelling jars and Tupperware tubs of food.
The first is one I’ve noticed recently, and it’s starting to piss me off. I am 20. My world is centred around categorisation it seems. I’m 2 years out of high school and I still have that mindset a little bit. Everyone had their groups. People could be defined, and to an extent put into boxes. Sometimes they were in multiple boxes, but everyone shared boxes. My Dad lately has taken issue with this. It’s not like we have major fights, it’s just subtle picking, “Oh you just love to put people in boxes Erin”- that sort of sarky nonsense.
Categorising people helps me to understand the world better, and it makes me feel safer and more secure. If I everyone is in boxes, it means there is some sort of order/sense/control to it all, and that makes me feel calmer. The world is chaotic, and stresses me out, and if I can separate people into boxes, it makes me feel a little more relaxed. It’s not even by ethnicity or religion, but things like whether a group of girls all wear floral prints (we had that in school, I called them the Florals), whether people are sci-fi nerds or fantasy nerds or both or neither, whether they are obnoxious and demand attention, or whether they are quiet and perhaps more interesting and require further investigation.
I need to put things in order in my brain to feel okay. Sometimes it leaks into the outside world, like my need to put things in alphabetical order (not just books and CDs, but sometimes the cleaning products at work) or how the other day I needed to move a chair slightly so that it was in line with a picture on the wall (my Dad got a bit annoyed with that as well, but he left me to it). Small things to make things a bit more sensible. This is probably related to my anxiety, which leads me to the second point!
The second is, as usual with me, to do with mental health. I have an anxiety disorder. I have done since I was about 13, but I’ve been pretty high anxiety since I moved to Scotland. Which I will discuss more in depth in another post, it’s too much for one thing.
I have a bit of an obsession with the NHS website. I love it. It has so much information about all the illnesses I might have. I know, I know- looking up symptoms is a very stupid thing to do. I don’t do it so much now, but a few years back it became a huge focus in my life.
When my issue with anxiety first started rearing it’s ugly head, I didn’t really understand what was going on. All I really understood was that I was unable to eat when other people were around, I couldn’t talk to people except my closest 5(ish) friends and I couldn’t phone people. Those were the main problems.
As these problems began to develop, my Grandad got cancer for the second time, and it was terminal. It was an extremely traumatic time. Not only was there the upset of him being ill, but I felt this intense need to be the strong one in my family. I wanted to protect everyone else from the pain they were going through, so I forced a lot of my emotions down. I cut myself off from them. I became numb, and this ebbed like the tide over the years, sometimes I am completely numb, and sometimes I feel all too much. I suppose I had some form of depression, I don’t know.
I knew that something was wrong, I just didn’t know what. I started trawling the NHS site for answers- was I schizophrenic? Probably not. Bipolar? Nope. I eventually came across the page on “Generalised Anxiety Disorder”. A lot of the symptoms fit, physical and mental, but I didn’t feel I had anxiety over tons of things, just things in a social context.
And you’ll never guess what!
The NHS had a page on “Social Anxiety Disorder” as well, and that fit me to a T. I needed someone to tell me for sure though. I knew it was stupid to diagnose myself. But as I was only about 14/15 at the time, I didn’t really know who to talk to about it.
I tried to gently discuss it with my Mum, a few times. Mainly the stuff about food. She was completely rational, and told me that nobody was concerned about what I was eating. I completely understand why she didn’t see that I was having problems as bad as I did, because, with my Grandad being sick, I had learned to hide things pretty well.
So things, as they tend to, got worse. I trust my Mum absolutely, so I guess because she didn’t see I had a problem, I thought I was making it up. Eventually it became clear I was not, and I got help with it. I am so glad I did as well, because I have come on leaps and bounds. Once someone told me that what I was experiencing was a social anxiety disorder, and that I didn’t need to feel this way all the time, I was able to start to get better. I learned techniques on how to deal with it. How to stop the feelings of anxiety before they got out of hand.
When it comes to mental health, I think sticking labels on illnesses is extremely important, because it means people know how they need to heal. It made it a whole lot easier for me. I suffered for years, and now I can do things I never though I would. The other day I did a presentation in front of about 100 people. 2 years ago I would’ve struggled to do it in front of 4. I can phone people now (I still can’t phone hairdressers though). Most importantly, I am able to eat around people. That was my biggest problem. I still sometimes get a tad nervous with it, but I’ve learnt to ignore it better.
Sometimes labels aren’t okay, like when you label a whole group of people as evil because of a small group who do evil things, or like earlier when my Dad labelled all scousers as being “unable to stop talking,” and a wee bit arrogant (mm yeah Dad, flipped the coin there didn’t I!), or how everyone labels vegans as the scum of the Earth who can’t stop preaching, when in fact I’m yet to meet anyone that fits that stereotype. The scouser thing isn’t a major issue really, but when you categorise literally thousands of people in such a critical way it’s not fair.
But as I said, labels can be important. They can tell us whether the white granules are sugar or salt (perhaps the most important label), what kind of help we need when we’re ill, in school who we’re more likely to get on with and who we’re not, and whether or not a bottle contains poison.
P.S Here are some links, the NHS ones are to the pages I looked at about anxiety, it’s a great site, just use it cautiously. One time I decided I had throat cancer. I did not. There’s also one for ChildLine, I’m afraid I don’t know what the adult equivalent is, but they’re great. They don’t just do phone counselling stuff, you can also send them private messages on the website, which was obviously a lot easier for me!