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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Down the Rabbit Hole: Owning your label

Dear Reader,

Today I want to walk you through what happened to me when I first realized I was entering Wonderland, a place filled with labels, diagnoses, pills, doctors and some of the weirdest stuff I’ve ever experienced. Odds are either you or someone you love will enter this bizarre world at some point and it’s really important to know that you are never alone in that experience. Sure, it’s confusing and frightening, but you are not alone and you have the people who’ve gone before you leading the way.

I was sitting in a chair designed for a child in one of the extra rooms of the University of Iowa’s ER surrounded by my friends, a rabbi and several doctors. It had just been determined that I didn’t have a big scary brain tumor, but that something was definitely wrong. That something turned out to be a very serious mental illness that would stay with me for my entire life. Sitting in that chair I felt the full weight of my future pressing upon me, a future filled with medications, psychiatrists, blood draws, therapists, academic accommodations and a fair bit of what I’ve come to call, “batshit crazy.”  I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my entire life.

Here we are, six months later, and I’ve come to accept all of the complications that come with my quest to remain relatively sane and functioning. I’ve embraced the term “batshit crazy” and made it my own and believe me, it really has helped. One of the most important things that I’ve learned is to take the things that have happened to me and make them my own. I’ve decided to own my labels, to own my diagnoses—I’ve chosen to define them rather than let them define me. Yes, I am bipolar and yes, I do have anxiety, but they do not define me. They’re just words that I’ve decided to assign my own meaning to and can interchange with “zany,” “loopy,” “speedy,” and even “batshit crazy” when they feel more applicable. So to all of you out there who have been handed a label (probably along with a few bottles of pills), take that label and make it your own. This is your life and you get to define it, not the DSM. You go to therapy and take pills every day, sometimes you maybe can’t get out of bed or are so wired that no one understands what you’re saying—but guess what, the rest of the world can just deal with it because that is who you are. No one gets to judge you for who you are, the pills you take or the diagnoses that you carry.

Mental illness, like everything else in life, is what you make of it. Yes, there will be people out there who will think less of you for something you have no control over, but there will be people like that no matter what. Yes, society will try and tell you what you can and cannot do and there will be people who will do everything in their power to push you aside and write you off. Do not let them. You have a voice and you deserve to be heard. I promise you, no matter how desperate and awful things may feel, you have something to offer and you deserve the same shot at life and success as everyone else. Take back your life and tell the world that you are just as valuable as someone with a mental illness because it’s true, you are valued. Look to the many role models out there who have come out about their illnesses and have continued to live their lives even though they have to take pills or go to therapy. Follow their lead and live your life to the best of your ability. Do what makes you happy.

I guess what I’m saying is that for me, things got better when I accepted the changes to my life caused by my diagnoses and, better yet, when I decided to stop letting the diagnoses define me and decided to define them instead. To me, bipolar and anxiety mean pills and blood draws and having some pretty weird days. They don’t mean that I am somehow less-than, weak or undeserving of love and happiness. I choose to own the labels and recognize that some of the things I like most about myself stem from my diagnoses. So yeah, I’m bipolar and I suffer from severe anxiety, and yes, I will be the first to admit that I am pretty crazy some of the time, but I am who I am and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

So, Reader, I encourage you to take some time to think about the labels society has placed upon you that you struggle with and figure out a way to own those labels, a way to reassert your control over the things that make life more difficult. And know, that you’re never alone in any of this.

Please consider taking this mental health survey!

I welcome your feedback! Please feel free to send your questions, comments or concerns to or if you prefer to remain anonymous, to my campus box, #4255.

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