Naming vs. Labeling

You know, I’m learning a lot from this blog.  Sometimes I learn things just by writing them down, and other times I learn things from the folks who comment.  But always, I find myself with stuff to think about.

Lately I’ve been feeling very “labeled.”  Not by anyone, except maybe myself.  I’m watching myself sort of embrace the label of Eating Disordered, and I’m not sure I like it.  There’s a lot of baggage that comes with a label.  Certain things that are supposed to be accepted as dogma.  If you are Eating Disordered, they say, you’ll never really get better; you’ll always be “in recovery.”  You’ll never have a normal relationship with food, they say.  You’ll always have to be vigilant, they say.  For the rest of your life, they say, you’ll have this funky head and the neuroses that go with it – it will be a part of you FOREVER.

Pardon my language, but what a load of victimized bullshit.  Honestly, that whole mentality just pisses me right the hell off.  And frankly, I find it counter-productive.  Why bother trying to get better if I CAN’T EVER get better?!  Why not just eat compulsively or starve, or hell, just take a razor to my wrists?  Because LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING IF I CAN’T GET BETTER.  Seriously.  (No, don’t panic.  I’m not even remotely considering suicide.  I’m just pissed off.) 

And here’s another thing: what if the reason you “can’t” get better is because you’ve bought the official party line?  What if the reason you “can’t” get better is because you BELIEVE you can’t? 

I just . . . *splutter*  There are no words for how angry this makes me.

And I KNOW there are brain chemicals involved, and some studies are now indicating that there might be genetics involved, as well.  I’m not supposing that we should (or could) all just snap out of it tomorrow.  But . . . I think of it this way: imagine driving down an old, rutted dirt road.  The kind of road that makes your teeth vibrate in your head.  A zippered road, even.  Now imagine that there is a set of old, well-worn tire tracks down the middle of the road.  It would be far more comfortable to drive in those pre-worn tracks, right?  But suppose that the road is really your brain.  Suppose that those tracks were put there by behaviors and/or habits.  Suppose that they were put there by genetics.  Whatever.  Of COURSE you want to drive in those tracks: having your teeth vibrate out of your head is not comfortable, right?  But those grooves would be SO MUCH MORE comfortable.  But those, of course, are ED tracks, so you have to stay out of them, and on the uncomfortable road.  Here’s the thing, though: while that road may be uncomfortable for a while (maybe a long while), eventually, your tires will wear new tracks in that road.  A while after that, those tracks will get deeper.  Your teeth will eventually stop vibrating as you drive down that dirt road.  The “new” tracks will become deeper and flatter, and eventually those tracks might even be deeper and flatter than the old, ED tracks.  Eventually.

Now that’s not to say that the old tracks will go away.  They won’t, and that’s ok.  But I DO think that we can get to a point where we don’t really notice them anymore.  Where once in a while, we glance out the window, and say, “Oh, yeah, I remember when I was driving in those tracks.  Huh.  I haven’t thought about them in a long time.  Anyway, eyes on the road!”  I don’t think the road will always be so bumpy.  I refuse to believe that I am permanently broken.  REFUSE.

But naming something is different.  Sometimes it helps to name something, to call it out, to identify it.  In some traditions and cultures, people pick their own names when they reach adulthood.  It’s considered a statement about who they are, and a claiming of their own power.  A name is a powerful thing.  But I have to be vigilant about keeping  it from becoming a label.  A name (in my opinion) is an identification of an Other, something apart from me and who I am.  A label tends to be something I use to define MYSELF.  It is something I live up (or down) to, and accept as gospel truth about myself, and it is unchangeable.  I will always be an ex-dancer.  I will always be a good actor.  I will always be smart.  No matter what I do or don’t do in the future, those things will always be true.  That’s my definition of a label.

So.  I HAVE an Eating Disorder.  *I* am NOT Eating Disordered.  Does that make sense?  I can get rid of something I HAVE.  If I have a cold, I get better.  If I have a VCR, I can give it to the Salvation Army.  If I have a dirty house, I clean it.  If I have an ED, I can get better.  (Even the act of writing that: “I have an ED,” makes me uncomfortable.  Not in a good, I’m-facing-my-demons way, but in an I-don’t-want-to-own-that-term-and-let-it-be-part-of-how-I-define-myself way.) 

That’s vastly different from claiming the statement: “I am Eating Disordered.”  Different verbs and everything: the verb “to have” and the verb “to be.”  Try swapping them out sometime, and see how it doesn’t work: I HAVE a red hat/I AM a red hat.  Weird, right?  I AM a tall person/I HAVE a tall person.  Doesn’t work, does it?  (Unless you happen to have a tall spouse/partner.  I guess that might work although it still implies a weird sort of ownership . . . um.  Sorry.  Random tangent.  My brain, it does that sometimes.  Well, all the time, really.  ANYWAY.)  I AM smart/ I HAVE smart.  (Ok, that one cracks me up.)  I HAVE an Eating Disorder/I AM an Eating Disorder.  Ooooo, that one is scary, isn’t it?  I am NOT an Eating Disorder.  Neither am I Eating Disordered.  (I’m starting to get really annoyed looking at those words capitalized, too.  I know it’s considered “correct,” but it looks really pretentious to me.)

Anyway.  I have no way to wrap this up.  Names=good, labels=bad.  End of rant.


14 responses to “Naming vs. Labeling

  1. Marste, Marste once again you rant so well on something that pisses me off to the point of screaming. Mostly at Mental Health Professionals, which then label me some more. Hence why I have given them up for a bunch of idiots and am just doing it my own way.

    Recovered is when I say it is. If I decided never to eat a burger again because it’s got fat in it, I don’t classify this as ED behaviour it’s a Lola Behaviour. It doesn’t mean I’m not better, it just means I have a weird thing about burgers. I know scores of people who have foods they won’t eat because of the fat content, or calories.

    OK, if I had 100 of these things then yes perhaps I’m not recovered, but as long as there is no MHP around to make me feel substandard about it, I reckon I can live a full and happy life never having a sodding burger again.

    Recovered for me is when I am happy and at peace with who I am, with the majority of food, despite weird habits and bumps and lumps. I’m not wearing someone elses stupid label around my neck just because they need a box to shove me in.

    Lola x

  2. Lola, I think you pretty much hit it on the head. To use your example, avoiding burgers isn’t by definition ED. Agreed, if you had a BUNCH of stuff you wouldn’t eat . . . well, that might be worrisome. But seriously, one or two foods? Not so much. (I must admit that I REFUSE to eat yogurt or pudding. The consistency and texture just grosses me out. *gag*)

    I practice a lot of energetic medicine too (yeah, I know it’s weird), and that’s another thing: the idea that if I resolve the underlying issue, the symptom (in this case an ED) will resolve itself. In other words, the ED is NOT the problem; it’s a SYMPTOM of a larger issue. Does that make sense?

  3. Just imagine for a moment that you’re a dimwit. And you work in some kind of clinic. Patients who appear to have some kind of disorder come to your clinic. You have no idea how to help them, not the slightest clue, but there are some procedures that you follow with them because you were trained that way. Most of the patients stop attending after a while. You have no idea why.

    In your dimwitted world, there are only two categories of people — people who have the disorder and people who don’t. You have no experience of any transitions. No one you know ever changed category. As far as you can tell, the people who have the disorder always had it and always will. So to you, the disorder is a permanent label.

    Occasionally, someone tries to explain to you that these patients were OK in the past and will be OK again in the future. But trying to imagine the past or the future is hard. It’s easier to think of things just being the way they are, so you can concentrate on following your procedures.

    I think that this need to assign permanent labels — oh, sorry, you can stop imagining you’re a dimwit now — is a failure of imagination, an inability to imagine past and future, cause and effect, to say “What if?” So when you write about underlying issues, I don’t think it’s another thing at all. I think it’s the same thing. I think the people who can’t imagine life’s ebb and flow and the transience of labels are the same people who can’t imagine cause and effect.

  4. Absolutely. I truly believe if you are determined and give yourself enough reasons to not have an ED that works just as well as weekly weigh ins and years of therapy-drivel!

    Lola x

  5. YES! This is absolutely true. I also find that as soon as people slap the “ED” label on me, they start pre-empting or second-guessing my behaviours, slapping meanings on there that weren’t there to start with. FOR EXAMPLE, I have a shredded mouth at Christmas, I cannot eat well, my mother believes me to be making it up because I AM (in her mind) eating disordered and always will be. Hence I fall out with my mum, which triggers my ED longer-term.

    Other people’s labels can be just as dangerous as our own sometimes!

    Now where’s that bumpy bit of track again….

    TA x

  6. Totally agree! I think more things are in our control than people generally want to acknowledge. If something is beyond our control, we can abdicate responsibility for it. I’m not at all saying all eating disorders, or disordered eating, is within anyone’s control, but I am saying that how we deal with them is. Go you for tackling a difficult personal issue head on and taking control back from anyone else who thinks they can categorize you.

  7. YES! I so hear you on this!!! Labels are for jars not people. Not quite the same thing, but I have asthma – it only bothers me occasionally but I don’t let it define my life. I remember one time someone referring to me as an “Asthmatic” and I was a little ticked. It’s just a teeny tiny part of me!

  8. Hi CBTish – I agree with the idea of transient conditions. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but it’s a good point. (Don’t know about the “dimwit” bit, though – I sort of figure they can only work with the info they’re given, you know? Whatever they’ve learned in school is all they’ve got to work with. LOL, I feel your frustration, though!)

    Lola, we are SO ON THE SAME PAGE.

    TA, I imagine that must have been SERIOUSLY frustrating! It’s tough when people start ascribing behaviors to things that aren’t related (not eating to the ED instead of a shredded mouth, for instance).

    Hi Rachel – welcome! Yeah, I think there are a lot of things that fall under that category. I forget who said it, but there’s a (reasonably) well-known quote that goes something like, “Our greatest fear is not that we are powerless. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” And I really think that’s true: we dont’ really WANT to have power, because then we’d have to use it. And it IS scary.

    Missicat, so I should stop referring to you as “the asthmatic with the blog?” *ducks* Kidding! I’m kidding! 😉 I think that makes a lot of sense, too. I have exercise-induced asthma, but I never went to the doctor about it. The fact is that if I warm up properly, the asthma doesn’t kick in. So I manage it on my own, but a BIG part of the reason I never went to the doctor was that I didn’t want another label. So your comment TOTALLY makes sense.

  9. I love your attitude. (Seriously.)

  10. Thanks, Kristen! And thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  11. your rants are freakin amazing. have you thought about trying to get a newspaper column?

  12. Love the analogy of the bumpy road…. and making our own track.

    This applies to so many other things in life, too. Labeling someone for one aspect of their life at one point in their life can be so detrimental. I know someone who is extremely intelligent, yet was labeled by a (not so intelligent) teacher as stupid. It stuck with her for years – in her own mind.

    Another friend suffered a great ordeal (almost died of carbon monoxide poisoning – her boyfriend actually did die) and was labeled forever after as ‘slow’ because of the damage done. This person has one of the quickest wits I’ve ever suffered at the hand of….. 🙂


  13. I used to have a problem with compulsive/binge eating. I seem to be over it. It was about half emotional work (such things as learning to tolerate unpleasant emotions, etc.), and half learning to eat in such a way to not be fully obsessed with food. It took a long time, and was WORK, but now I have no foods that I can’t eat (though some I try to eat very rarely), and I feel comfortable in any eating situation (unhappy if there’s nothing but crap), and I don’t struggle with it. I’m planning to soon write a blog post on this, still churning it over in my mind.

    But labeling is natural. It’s how we see the world, and categorize people/things. It just is.

  14. Pingback: When is a Binge Not a Binge? Um . . . wait . . . never mind. « Take Up Your Bed and Walk

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