I had my first therapy appointment the other day. It was great.
At one point, I rambled on to my therapist about cyclothymia and bipolar — the differences between them, which one I thought I had been “before” and which one I suspected I was becoming, etc. When I was done, she said something very profound. I’d heard it before. But for some reason, when she said it, it hit me differently than it had every other time I’d heard it. I can’t quote her verbatim but the paraphrase is this: labels don’t matter. Labels are just one means to an end; overall, labels are simply a mechanism for efficient articulation, and the primary purpose of labeling mental health is to drive the treatment.
I’d heard that concept before, but this time it was freeing.
Bipolar is not my name. My name is……
Fae isn’t really my name, either. And I’m not going to put my real name out there. Alas, I have thwarted my own melodramatic point.
Let’s start over.
Who am I? (Hey, when you can’t pull off the melodrama, waxing philosophic is The Next Best Thing, amiright?)
But no, really—who am I?
Sometimes I’m happy-go-lucky, little miss free-spirit. Creativity flows through me like blood and my head is clear and focused. I’m motivated, productive, impassioned. I experience self-confidence and a zest for life.
Sometimes I’m depressed. Low-energy, unmotivated, apathetic. Brooding, pondering, stuck-in-my-head. Hopeless, discouraged, wrestling with the accuracy of my perceptions of life (my faith, who loves me, my worth, etc.).
In short, I’m moody.
I have a tendency to jump on bandwagons. To shoot my mouth off about things I feel strongly about. To start things I will never finish. To be “noisy” on social media. To disappear from the face of the earth for days on end. To over-book and over-commit myself. To give up too easily. To fixate on things.
In short, I have tendencies.
There are labels for some of the moods and tendencies I experience. Bipolar, OCD, paranoia, depression, irritability, anxiety — oh yes, and let’s not forget PMS.
But I am not Those Things. Rather, Those Things help to describe various aspects of who I am. And some of Those Things need to be treated because they’re harmful to who I am.
Sometimes, labels can act as a cage, even though they’re supposed to function as the gateway to freedom.
That day in therapy, these labels became irrelevant. I no longer cared if I could be “diagnosed bipolar” or if I was “mildly OCD” or if I “had depression”. It didn’t matter.
Inside the walls of that room, as I sat there blathering on, I was just me. I was me, acknowledging that sometimes I feel sad and hopeless and sometimes I feel great. I was me, realizing that I didn’t know how to handle sad and hopeless and I needed help. I was me, being me, understanding me, and getting me help.
If you experience things that feel harmful to you, I encourage you to get help too. It doesn’t always have to be professional help. Confide in a dear friend; ask for prayer; talk to your pastor; Google “what to do when I’m _________”. Don’t stick a label on what you’re feeling and then go on about your business; that doesn’t fix anything. The purpose of a label is not JUST to articulate what’s going on — it’s supposed to drive the treatment.
Don’t stop at simply acknowledging your tendencies—there’s freedom out there for the taking—because yes, sometimes we really are our own worst enemy and we have to intervene on our own behalf.
The Label is not The Thing. Bipolar is not my name. It’s just a label. ‘Life’ is The Thing and labels are just vehicles for helping us get from one part of it to another.
So don’t just sit there! Start driving. ;)