Labels generalise and stigmatise
Let’s just say I was a flag waver for Mental Health after a few years of having my illness. Every group or treatment centre that I was associated with would always teach us to be open and honest about our illnesses. I was, for many years, and I’d always stand up for my rights and be up front and honest about everything.
Now, I’m not too sure.
I’m not too sure because everywhere I see or hear someone standing proud for the latest ‘ism’ I see a group of people that are vulnerable to categorisation by default. My recent brush with a feminist group should solidify that. If I knew no other feminists I could have walked away thinking that feminism is a man-hating egotistical shit storm. Yet, I know far too many women that call themselves feminists that support human rights, so I walked away thinking it was just another shit group bonded together by a bunch of people that were deeply unhappy with themselves and had latched onto the label of Feminism.
And yet this lead me onto further thinking, that everywhere I go, or every group that I interact with could lead me into a generalisation. If I walked into a group of Mental Health advocates that were largely comprised of angry narcissistic men, then if I wasn’t aware of the beauty of diversity in cultures then my notion of ‘mental ‘health’ could have been completely tarnished with what I had witnessed in the group. I don’t like to judge ‘isms’ on the small few that I have interacted with, but I’m very aware that people do actually do this.
I once worked with a man that was hiding because he had talked to the police about a gang that was providing his wife with drugs. Quite a few of them had ended up in prison and he was marked with death. His impression of recovering alcoholics was largely guided by what he had witnessed from in his ex partner, and yet, being one myself, and knowing I was nothing like this had me set back quite a bit. I had to tell myself that he was only going by what he had experienced. It’s usually that memory I reflect to when I’m at a danger of generalisation.
And that’s why when people meet me I don’t generally offer the information up straight away. I mean I used to, but offering it up without any leading questions or prying by anyone else can lead (some) people into an onslaught of putting me into a neat little box where all their other experiences from those types of people have come from. I mean I agree that there’s only a handful of personality types out there but experience dictates and distorts the output of the person. People are largely predictable but their reasons for coming to the end result are not.
And then sometimes it leads to positive discrimination, which I can wholeheartedly say was the bane of my life at one point. People treating me in a certain way because of the illnesses that I had. And, if you are treated in a certain way for long enough then you start to wear that coat like it’s your own. Back in my less calmer days, when I’d do something stupid or ‘out there’ as society would call it, rather than be treated accordingly by my friends or neighbours for being a total dick, their lack of understanding led me to being let off on more than one ocassion, and their reasoning being,
“Ah, it’s ok, Raymond suffers from Mental Health problems, he’s like that sometimes”
And whilst it’s wonderfully awesome to have people accept me for who I am, because they were doing just that, I just wasn’t being treated properly, they were essentially giving me more of a berth than they would anyone else. If any of their other friends acted in the way I did sometimes they’d be chastised for it.
And that led on to me actually excusing myself for the way I was. Not,
“I’m really sorry for being a dick last night, I was being a total dick” but more so,
“I’m really sorry for being a dick, sometimes I don’t understand, my mind was playing up”
And they’d just let me away with it, as if using my Mental Health condition was a get out of jail free card. And it’s why I’ve stopped labelling myself, and others. There are so many different sides to the story of everyone it becomes quite hard to tightly bundle certain people into certain boxes. And it’s why I don’t mention my health conditions to anyone, whether that’s applying for a new job, or communicating with a new business, or even striking up a new friendship. Mainly because if I am to mention a label then they are sure to put me in a box where their other experiences are.
So I’m me. Judge me as I am with you now, not by what group I associate, or gender, or sexuality, or whatever. I am beautifully unique, and you are too!
Labels generalise and stigmatise