Do you have a label? I must have a bazillion of them. One of the first ones was, “quiet.” And then I would hear comments like, “the quiet ones are the ones you have to watch out for,” implying (or so it seems to me) that quiet people are the ones who are more likely to turn out to be mass murderers or commit hideous crimes. So that label, even when I was very young, tended to upset me and make me mad. I remember my thoughts from around age five as something like, “Look, I’m not a psychopath, I just like to read! What is your problem!”
Shy was another one. And “shy” annoys me for different reasons — because people confuse it with “quiet.” But in fact, in different contexts, the word “shy” can mean, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” “I don’t like you,” “I like you but am afraid you might not like me,” or “I am overstimulated by my environment right now and would really like some peace and quiet.” Upon careful reflection, though, I think people use the word “shy” — whether it is a self-diagnosis or a label from a family member or friend — most often as less of a label than a social excuse. It says, “this person is not behaving in the socially accepted way, so please do not be offended.”
So now I have embraced the label “shy.” It says, I don’t have to be right in the thick of things where I don’t want to be. I can hang out on the edges where it’s quieter or even stay at home. I don’t have to pretend to be good at small talk. (Small talk is not my problem! How liberating!) It even says, “social norms do not apply to me, thank you for your concern” — which is a message that I adore.
Still, because of the labels that were applied to me as a child, I can understand why my parents to this very day do not like labels, even when I apply them to myself. For example, when I diagnosed myself with Asperger’s, my parents’ reaction was, “what do you want to label yourself for?” In that case, the answer was, so I can better understand myself and help the people around me to better understand me. You know, like when you start sneezing and then reassure the people around you by saying, “oh, I don’t have a cold, I just have allergies.”
Oh, but colds and allergies are physical labels, Bonnie. Don’t you know the difference? Nope. That’s why I have Asperger’s. Because when things are logically the same I recognize that they are logically the fucking same, damn it, and I don’t care if some labels have stupid social implications and some don’t. And, frankly, not to sound hostile — another label — but I think that those of you who are blind to certain logical parallels just because they don’t fit your social schema have your own handicap, actually.
See, now some of you are looking the other way. “Bonnie had an outburst! She’s usually so quiet!”
Hello? Everything I say is a label. WORDS ARE LABELS. Of course I love labels. I make my living as a writer!! My recreation is reading books!!
Now, here’s another stupid thing. Did you see the word “social” above and think, oh, she’s about to get political on us and talk about race and class and sex? That would be so Bonnie-like, but not this time. Let’s take just a moment and talk about things that are mental versus things that are physical. See, labels apply to both. And you can have mental disorders just like you can have physical ones, and they are just as common. I don’t have a statistic to back that up — how un-Bonnielike of me — but you know it’s true. Why? Because you’ve experienced emotional phenomena just like you’ve experienced physical phenomena, you morons (and I mean morons totally affectionately, I assure you–I am not angry, just exasperated, and not about to turn into one of the “quiet ones” who goes postal on you, so everyone just calm down, please, thank you). So, we don’t need to get all embarrassed and afraid to put labels on mental disorders, whether they are mild or moderate or severe. They are not signs that we are turning into one of the “quiet ones” (unless we already are). They are just a normal part of life, like catching a cold or breaking a leg or getting cancer. Like other normal parts of life, some can be prevented, some can’t.
And some would be actually not a big problem if extroverts would stop expecting the whole world to act like them. (Oh, sorry, hope I didn’t step on your toes with the whole extrovert-label thing.)
Some are blessings in disguise (a lot, actually, are blessings in disguise).
Others would be a big problem no matter what kind of world you live in.
But that’s life.
And we can cope with it. And we can call it what it is, and if we want to be picky enough to find the exact right word for it, that’s okay, because that’s why we are writers. Or readers. Or tarot readers. 🙂