I am the same person I was yesterday. But words have power, and labels change things, as much as we try to look through and beyond them.

Your son has Asperger’s syndrome. You hear this with a strange mix of relief and misery. Relief that the label might frame the conversation, point towards useful interventions, be HELPFUL. But dread because you know words can hurt, diagnoses can narrow our focus from a whole person to a set of symptoms.

Richie Incognito, a leader in the Dolphin’s defense wrote thousands of text messages to his friend and teammate Jonathan Martin. In and amongst these he threatened death to family members and called Martin a nigger. The power of this label, as a word of hate, reclaimed as a word of solidarity,  with unwritten rules of who can utter it and how it can be used is one of the most striking examples of the impact that two syllables can have.

I just said it out loud and found myself whispering the second syllable. Something stopped my vocal chords from vibrating and allowing it space in the room.

My cousin never really came out as gay. He just dated men. It wasn’t a label he needed to claim.  I am sure it will claim him sometime; making him an insider or an outsider depending on the group and circumstance. For now it is one facet of him, more interesting to his older relatives who remember coming out as an act of courage in a time when homosexuality was marginalized. His generation has taken the sting out of this label. It is either celebrated or ignored.

Throughout 17 years of therapy my psychiatrist never gave me a label. Eventually I claimed my own. Clinical depression. As I struggled with it more frequently I thought about it more. I wondered if the label helped or hurt. Figured like almost everything else it was all tied together. Sometimes it helped me set my mood apart- not of me- this darkness is not my story. Other times I felt it was my headline. In the worst way.

A while ago he tried to steer me towards a different label, and I sort of freaked out. I had taken on “depression.” I got it just as much as it got me.

Yesterday he listened to me describe the muck I have been mired in and spoke a little more strongly. My current medicine is not working. He wants to prescribe a mood stabilizer. For bi-polar disorder.

We talk about how little mania I have shown and he explains that the drug is not just for putting a lid on the ceiling, but a sub floor on the floor. I want a sub floor. I am sick of sinking.

So now I have a new label.  I am the same person I was before the appointment. I am going to try to stay off of google, I don’t want to learn how to overidentify with my new diagnosis.

Bi-polar.

I want to start plotting a path to the equator.

 

 

 

 

 

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Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble, Parent.co, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at annarosenblumpalmer.com.

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