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Day 20 in the “Questions To A Parent With Mental Illness” Challenge set for me by my daughter.  And this I think is going to be a difficult question.

DD 20

My Darling Daughter,

Of all the questions that you have asked me thus far, I think this one has generated the most immediate response or reaction within me.  

Not only because of the social injustice that all too often goes along with the applying of labels – especially when it comes to mental illness and mental health, but also because it involves you, one of my children.

Not that I think that you cannot handle it honey.  I know you well enough to know that you can indeed handle these things.  And, knowing you, that you will set people right if the label is inappropriate and you think it is worth doing.  But I think every worthwhile parent would be concerned to think that their child or children was hearing potentially harmful or unjust stuff about them.

And that statement in itself, having just typed and re-read it, does cause my thoughts (as so many things do with my mind) to go off on an interesting tangent…

Nowhere within your question have you even indicated that those labels – which you have heard people putting on me – were in anyway negative.  I have simply assumed that they are negative and inappropriate.  And I have done that, I think, because that is what so often happens when it comes to mental health or mental illness.

And isn’t it so very tragic that this should be the natural assumption or conclusion reached when someone mentions labels in respect of mental illness?

The plain simple truth is honey that you kids probably know me better than any other person on earth.  So I am confident that you will have, by now, formulated your own opinions of me and are more than able to filter out any wrongful impressions implied or applied as a result of any labels that people choose to put on me.

But of course, part of the reason for that is that you are now all adults.  So I have to be honest with you honey, part of me wonders if you have witnessed some of these labels being applied earlier in your life.  And I wonder what their impact would have been then?  Perhaps when you didn’t have the life skills or maturity to look beyond the labels or to be able to filter out any that were not justly applied?

See that’s the thing about labels isn’t it.  We  all too often simply accept them and so they all too often stop us looking or thinking any further.   Unless of course that label happens to peak our curiosity – perhaps because it seems to be misplaced or perhaps because it is a new label and we don’t recognize it.

And how do we know that they are wrongly applied unless we look further, unless we look beyond the label?  Unless we actually take time to consider or to see what is within that thing or within that person who is being labelled?

And here’s the deal honey. There is no single label that you will ever find which will adequately or comprehensively explain all that is within me, or within you, or within anyone else for that matter.  So when it comes to people, even if the label fits, it will never be enough.

As you know, I have three canisters next to my kettle.  One is labelled ‘Sugar’, one ‘Tea’, and one ‘Coffee’. And those labels are adequate and applicable because almost always (unless I have had a particularly bad episode and filled one of them with something else) whenever you go to one of them you will generally always and only find in them what the label on the outside indicates you will find.  The labels in this case are not a bad thing and they serve a purpose.

But people aren’t like that.  No matter what label we apply – banker, teacher, sales-clerk, pilot, plumber, electrician, mother, father, son, daughter – they are never enough to adequately or comprehensively describe the person behind the label. 

Honey, you are my child, my daughter.  But you are so much more than both of those things and so much within these things…

You are; my child ( well my grown-up child), my daughter, a friend, a confidant, a soul-mate, a joy, loving, kind, considerate, compassionate, caring, a delight, an encourager, an inspiration, a blessing, a strength, a hope, a comfort, a happiness bringer, a frustration bringer (well sometimes you are 🙂 ), a hope bringer, a laughter bringer, a peace bringer, an emotion generator, a contentment giver, a challenge and a challenger.

In so many ways you complete me, and in so many ways you draw more out of me, and in so many ways you inspire yet more to come. But honey even with that long list of things that you are to me, it still seems inadequate and incomplete.  

Why? Because there is no label that can adequately or comprehensively say all of those things or express who you are to me.  And no label which can adequately or comprehensively include all of those things as well as what you are to your husband, your friends, your work colleagues, etc. etc.

So how does the fact that you sometimes hear people putting labels on me make me feel?

It makes me feel kind of sad honey.  Sad for anyone who thinks that by sticking a label on me they can adequately or comprehensively describe me.  And sad for anyone who sees or hears that label and who doesn’t take time to look beyond it.  

And sad if this happened at a time when you were not able to see and know all of these things and if they caused you any kind of distress.

With all my heart,

Dad.

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