And there’s the labels we put on each other. There are labels in our society and labels we give someone to wear like a generic description that says, “This is me.”
I used to buy into this. I think we all do. I think we all have our own biases and beliefs.
I never liked the words “Learning disabled” or any of the other terms I grew up with. I never liked them because they somehow defined me, or better yet, they compartmentalized me in a box, as if to say, “This is the best I can ever be,” as if my label was a disclaimer that read like a warning.
I never thought much about the stigmas or the blanket terms we used to define people. I never thought about this because I was part of a system. I assumed this was the way things are.
I believed in the words we used. I believed in the labels as if the label itself was a disability, which meant “Try if you want, but in the end, deep down, you know that you’re just wasting time.”
I used to give into excuses. I used to subscribe to the labels that were given to me. I believed in them like gospel. And why wouldn’t I? They were given to me by highly educated people. They had degrees on the walls in their office. They spent all those years in college. They have to be right. Don’t they?
I think my first experience with labels was when I was 12. They were trying to understand what was “Wrong” with me. And I quote the word “Wrong” to emphasize the opposite of normal. I explain it this way; as if me or my way of being or my social ineptness, my frustration to learn or understand or to read and comprehend, or my awkwardness, my insecurity, my unsureness, my disconnection, or my troublesome ideas, or the way I acted could somehow be explained, or at least summarized by a word or a term, and then somehow, I could be healed by that term, because at least now there was a reason for the way I was.
At least this way my problems could be written off or at best, I can be explained as unwell or considered mentally unfit and too damaged to participate in a normal world.
I remember being told I was emotionally disturbed. And I thought to myself, really?
I was a little kid, skinny as a twig, and I looked younger than anyone else my age. I was much shorter too. I was never comfortable in school. I’m not sure if I was lazy or uninterested or both.
I’m not sure if the anxiety behind my schoolwork was a challenge, or better yet, I’m not sure if I believed that I was stupid or maybe even simpler, maybe I just didn’t like schoolwork. Plus, who the hell wants to do math or study or read things out loud in the front of a classroom?
Maybe I didn’t like the teachers or their coffee breath. Maybe I didn’t like the way things went in the cafeteria or on the playground.
Maybe I thought I was too weak to compete so it would be better to withdraw than to try.
Maybe I just thought people were dicks or perhaps my sensitivity to rejection was too high and this was due to early childhood trauma.
Or, maybe I never understood that this is how life is sometimes. There’s good and there’s bad. There are moments that move quickly and the smiles are big and the lights are bright.
There are times when life falls into place and there are times when we face disappointments. Maybe I was hurt. Maybe something happened. Maybe I just needed someone to talk to that would listen and understand.
Maybe I was humiliated or bullied a few times and maybe I was afraid I would never “make it” or be cool.
Or maybe there were simpler explanations, but no, that wasn’t it. No, my problem was summed up by a label, handed down to me by a so-called professional. I was emotionally disturbed.
None of this is true!
I participated in a program for kids in schools. I talked openly about my life and my struggles. I did not go into details on the drugs or the crimes or the crazy ideas, which made sense to me at the time.
I did not glorify the news of my past by flowering up the stories to be infamous or heroic.
Instead, I spoke honestly about the descriptions of my thinking and the way I would respond as a result of what I believed was true. I talked about the ideas of my life behind a label, which ran the gamut from problem child to degenerate, to junkie, to loser, dirtbag, criminal, mentally ill, and of course, emotionally disturbed, and depressed. The list could go on and it does, but to be honest, why bother?
I discussed the ways I thought and the ways I lived as a result of my belief system. I explained that my belief system is exactly what limited me from being anything other than all the above.
I have always found this interesting. I think about the descriptions people used to define me. I was called “Hood” as in short for hoodlum.
I was called a lot of things, which I believed enough to prove these descriptions as true.
In fairness, people will often give up their freedom.
The names I was called were hurtful but yet, I would also prove to others that I was the beast they claimed me to be.
This was a mistake. They were wrong about me. I was none of the above. And it’s true, I have depression in my life.
But I am more than this. I have a dark history but this does not define me. This only defines a time in my life. There were struggles. There were moments when I swore I wouldn’t make it through the day. There were times when I believed in the labels that were given to me. And I thought to myself, “They must be true.”
I believed in myself when I would say, “It’s not gonna happen” or, “I can’t do it.” At the same time, I never tried or dared or looked to see if anything was possible. Because, why bother?
The freest I ever felt is the day I decided to walk away from this. I explained this during a classroom initiative for more than an hour. I answered the students that asked me questions. I spoke with some of them after the bell rang too.
One boy stands out to me in my memory. He was crying. I remember him very well. He walked up and asked to talk with me for a while. He asked why no one ever explained it to him like this before.
Maybe then he would have understood more. He was young. He was a good kid trapped in bad behaviors.
He had his share of problems. What I remember most about this boy was the tears in his eyes and the look on his face.
He kept asking, “Why didn’t anybody ever tell me this before?”
They made him go to all these doctors just so they could find out what was “Wrong” with him.
He had labels too. I asked him his name.
He told me.
I told him, “That’s the only label I want you to be concerned with.
We all have a name, and since identity is everything, our primary goal is to make that name worthwhile. This is the only label that matters.