Thursday, 10 April 2014

Labels, Luck and Defining Yourself

We all get a run of good luck. We all get a run of bad luck. Something I've recently discovered is that this runs don't have to be exclusive.

I've been extremely fortunate in many ways lately; appearing on TV3, contributing a guest column to a US community newspaper, the imminent approach of my first workshop in partnership with Bridge21 and ReachOut.com. All of this involves a ton of work, but it's the kind of work that leaves me tired and satisfied when the day is done. It fills me with hope and excitement and a sense of purpose.

                                     My column in the latest US edition of  The Irish World

Then there's the less fortunate occurrences. My American Adventure has been put on hold in definitely. I have a lot of thinking to do about my work situation and figure out the best course of action. There are a number of complicated personal relationships that have my head all foggy, and I need to decide what to hold onto and what to let go.

With the sweets, come the sours. With the good, comes the bad. It's the latter which has effected my demeanor over the last few days. I found myself grumpy and crabby. I've no idea how my Mum (who has bore the brunt of my bad vibe) didn't kill me, but I'm eternally grateful for her on-going patience and love.

                                                                     Me and Mum


So when I woke up today, I decided to give an "f-you" to my recent mood. Yeah, it sucks that I'm not going to go to America (not to mention the sting of already forking over nearly two grand for flights, etc). The work problems are a pain in the arse. The personal relationships are a fricking minefield that I'm navigating barefoot. But getting frustrated about things that are beyond my control is exhausting and pointless. It won't change fundamental facts and it's only going to stress me out. So I'm making a conscious effort to do what I can, with what I have.

I remember when I did an interview with the Irish Independent a while back and the reporter asked me if I had ever experienced any negative reactions to my openness about mental health. The only example I could recall was a minor situation when I was in school.

While there's a growing awareness of the importance of mental health and well-being in our society, the subject is still taboo. This is demonstrated by the fact that every time I speak publicly about my own history with mental health issues, at least one person calls me brave. It is an incredibly kind and sweet thing for them to say; but it's not a label I attach to myself. I want us all to get to a point that such discussion isn't considered 'brave'. That you don't have to gather your courage to tell people "I'm having a rough time" because you're afraid that they won't understand.

At the moment, labels are still very much a part of the discussion. I've been labeled a lot over the years - the girl with the Mum who's depressed; the girl who used to be anorexic; the girl who's mental. Most of the time, I ignored these labels. I continue to ignore the majority of labels. They don't define me and they certainly don't get me.

I knew that I was going to expose myself to such things if I became vocal about mental health problems and the need for change. I know that for every person I help or encourage to get help, there will always be those who judge me and my decisions.

Between one thing and another, it's become clear to me that certain people have attached labels to me over the last few months. Their behavior and comments to me makes that apparent. So there's a couple of things I want to make clear: I am not broken. I am not weak. I am not a delicate porcelain doll. I don't need to be protected, I'm perfectly capable of making my own decisions. I do not need to be handled with care. I refuse to be perceived as fragile.

I know that for the people who have these perceptions of me, nothing I say will change their mind. That's something that they have to do themselves. Maybe they never will. But I do know that I don't have to accept their beliefs. I do know that what I'm doing - talking and writing about mental health and being a youth ambassador - needs to be done. I want to do it. Because, to quote Emily Dickinson, if I can stop one heart from breaking, I will not live in vain.

I'm not in control of what people assume about me, but I am in control of how I react to it. I can choose how I deal with hurt and disappointment and confusion. I choose to refuse.

I refuse to be labelled and put in a box. I refuse to measure my self-worth solely off negative opinions. I refuse to be used or toyed with. I refuse to be bullied into silence.

People are too complicated to have simple labels. The only label any of us should accept is "human being". That's what we all are and at the end of the day, we're all in this together - not against each other.

Mucho Love,

Vicky xoxo
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