Why Those Labels Aren’t Helping You

By Jessie Douglass-Smith McGraw
8 min read

Maybe you were labeled ADD when you were little or OCD when you were a teen. In your early twenties you were told you have an anxiety disorder or depression. Maybe now you’ve labeled yourself as a failure or damaged because of your experiences in the past. At first, when you were given the label by a doctor or psychiatrist or you had slapped a label on yourself, you felt relief because you felt seen, you felt understood, and you could now relax knowing that although it’s a bummer to have this label for the rest of your life, at least you felt justified for all of your suffering.

Then some time goes by, and your symptoms and suffering actually feel worse. You justify it by attaching your feelings to whatever is going on around you – your partner, your job, your family – they must be the reason why you’re feeling worse. With each passing year you keep editing your life in hopes of ridding yourself of any triggers until one day you wake up to the fact that you feel cornered in your own mind and the only thing you have as your companion is your label.

Does this feel familiar?
This was my experience with anxiety and depression. I had dealt with anxiety my whole life, but when I found myself in a career job at the age of 30 that I thought would be the end-all, be-all to my anxieties, I got worse. Far worse. So much so that my health deteriorated. I found myself, as I said earlier, feeling alone inside of myself, depressed as ever. Even though I was married and had friends all around me that so badly wanted to help me out of it, I justified my anxiety and depression, and my loneliness within it, by telling myself that they just didn’t understand. I was in so much pain and didn’t think anyone or any thing could help.

Here’s what woke me up: when I realized that the weight of the labels “I have anxiety, I am depressed” carried so much expectation in them. For the life of me, I could not see life any differently, I couldn’t shift my perspective – but that makes absolute common sense considering I had already made up my mind that I couldn’t ever be more than
anxious or depressed. I EXPECTED life to live up to those labels. God forbid I admit that I’m actually OK sometimes, because that would mean that I was OK with my circumstances, which I wasn’t, therefore it was just easier to justify my upset with a label and live in the feeling of that label. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.

When I started to see that I had the free will to buy into the story of being anxious or depressed, or not, things started to shift. Ever so slightly and bit by bit, I started to feel lighter. Though the thinking I had at the time was pretty seductive, telling me I should feel upset and lost because it seemed like I was, I started to find freedom from those stories when I saw them as just that… stories. I no longer had to operate and interact with life, and those around me, from my belief of ‘what was wrong’. I started to feel my okay-ness. I started to sense that I was so much more than my labels and the labels themselves were keeping me in a state of mind that wasn’t allowing me to see anything new and fresh or different.

So I would love for you to take this into consideration: what would life be like if you were willing to drop your labels – no matter how long you’ve had them. You are so much more than your mind. Your brain will come with tons of different types of thinking – thinking that doesn’t allow you to focus, thinking that makes you feel low, thinking that makes you feel anxious, thinking that makes you feel depressed, thinking that makes you feel hopeful, thinking that makes you feel peaceful – you get where I’m going.

The key to starting to shift your perspective is not to try and change your thinking, but to see it for what it is – thinking in the moment that is either helpful, or not. That simple. You are not your thinking, you are the observer of your thinking. You are the whole and healthy person looking at your anxious thinking or your depressed thinking, wishing it wasn’t getting in the way of your life. So instead of going to the moving target of your thinking to find answers, go the other way. Get curious about the healthy person that exists inside of you that’s looking at all of it. When you begin to walk in that direction, what naturally starts to rise to the surface is the hopeful, creative, fresh and new thinking that is actually helpful. It isn’t something you need to force, it will rise to the top like a buoy in the ocean, the moment you allow it to. One of the many benefits? You’ll get re-acquainted with who YOU are, the you that is free of labels.

Jessie Douglass-Smith McGraw is a Los Angeles based Mindful Health Practitioner & Transformative Coach. To learn more about her practice visit: whatmovesyouLA.com.

For more insights into the benefits of therapy, check out the below articles:
Where To Start in Finding a Mental Health Therapist
When do I need to see a mental healthcare professional?
Benefits of Virtual Therapy (And Where To Find It)

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