I am not a pickle jar

cucumbers-pickle-jar-preserves-canning-food-glass

Photo via Visual hunt

“I am bipolar.”

This is how I introduce my mental illness. Not “I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar 1” or “I have a mental illness.” I say “I’m bipolar.” It’s a label I give myself. It’s something I refer to myself as that’s seen as negative by general society.

Some labels can be seen as positive. “I’m a farmer.” “I’m an author.” “I’m a mother.” “I’m a teacher.” “I’m a singer.”

But these limit us. They indicate that’s all we are, that this is all we see ourselves as. We are multi-faceted with many interests, complex personalities, and a life beyond one thing. When we give ourselves labels people identify us with those single things. They don’t go deeper to learn more about us. Those labels also lead to preconceived ideas about us, and people expect us to act a certain way.

When I say “I’m bipolar,” people immediately assume I’m dangerous and unstable. They’re scared I’m going to grab some kind of weapon and kill people. Why? Because that’s what the media and society in general have trained them to think. When I say I’m an author, people expect me – as a woman – to be writing romance. Because that’s what women write. Very few people take me seriously as a science fiction author because “that’s a man’s genre” even though there are some awesome science fiction authors out there that are women.

Labels can also lead to violence. Muslims are all labeled as terrorists because of the actions of a small portion of religious extremists. People see them as dangerous and treat them with suspicion that often leads to attacks and even murders. This is because the label of “Muslim” means “killers.”

We need to stop labeling ourselves and others around us. If we must put a name to someone, then we need to break the chains of preconceived notions. We need to open our minds and learn how to look beyond the surface of those labels, to see what lies beneath.

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