Reframing Mental Health Labels

Even as a young child, I’ve always felt that I was different from everyone else. I felt that no matter where I turned, I never truly fit in. This caused me to have an identity crisis, which then led to years of co-occurring mental health conditions.

Throughout the years, I desperately wanted to know what exactly was “wrong with me” and was determined to figure it out. I still remember thinking: If only I knew the problem, I could finally “fix” myself.

I thought getting a label would make it easier to work through all my baggage, trauma and trapped emotions and somehow open my eyes to the path forward. Yet, when I discovered that I have multiple physical and mental diagnoses that have no cure, I was left feeling even more helpless and discouraged than before. To make matters worse, mental health labels are often associated with stigma.

For me, these labels represented my shame and the stigma of how others would perceive me. I let those letters degrade my sense of worth. I saw myself as unable to do things other people can. I experienced intrusive thoughts that caused years of inner turmoil: I’m too anxious, how can I ever be successful? How can a depressed person be a successful entrepreneur?

However, with time, I’ve found that in life a label can be used in a positive way if we are willing to let go of the judgment and stigma and reframe how we label ourselves.


How I Reframed My Labels

The more I saw people speaking up unapologetically about the obstacles they’ve overcome in their lives, the more curious I became about how I could flip this conversation in my own head. I started by studying psychology to gain a better understanding of how emotions, language, and beliefs tie into our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. What I found was the way our brains function can directly impact our sense of self.

In order to make sense of the world, our unconscious mind labels and categorizes everything. While this is a useful strategy to make sure our brains don’t exert too much energy, sometimes this mechanism causes us to label and indirectly judge ourselves in the process. When we identify with these labels instead of accepting them, we perceive ourselves as being “anxious” or “incapable,” which can lead to even more feelings of apathy and self-defeat. However, I’ve found that a label can be used in a positive way if we are willing to see from that perspective.

Although you may “experience” the feeling of anxiety, you are not the anxiety itself. Making this simple distinction can free you to take charge of your self-image. Once you see this as merely something that happens to you, instead of who you are, the easier it will be to reclaim your power and begin to believe in yourself.


An Example

I always had bad stage fright and have always struggled with public speaking in school. I walked around with this idea that I was incapable of speaking in front of a large group, so I avoided it entirely. However, I found that when I spoke about causes I cared about, I couldn’t stop talking. There was no fear or nervousness in my voice because I was speaking from my heart. I wasn’t consumed with the worry of being judged for what I was saying because I believed in it.

It was at this point I realized that maybe it wasn’t a personal flaw but, rather, it was a trait that forced me into being more intentional about what I speak about. Once I accepted it as part of how I experience the world instead of labeling it “who I am” as a person, it was easier to overcome. With this newfound insight, I forced myself to speak up and actively find opportunities to use my voice and connect with others.

What I found was that when I allowed myself to speak from the heart, I spoke with confidence and ease. I was able to separate myself from my own self-limiting beliefs and learned how to take fear and anxiety along with me. I won’t go as far to say anxiety wasn’t there, but what I can say is that these feelings lost their power over me because it was no longer how I defined myself. My desire to use my voice freely grew stronger than my fear.

So my question to you is can you take one thing you’ve always considered your weakness and see it from a different vantage point? Maybe you have always considered yourself an “overly emotional” person. Have you ever considered this can be a valuable asset? If you are more emotionally driven, chances are you have an empathetic nature and have the keen ability to “feel” more intensely; which is an invaluable trait if you want to help others.

It will take practice, but once you learn the skill of reframing your beliefs and thoughts, you can start to see yourself in a new light. My biggest wish is that you can illuminate that part of yourself and learn to love every part because there is, and only ever will be, one of you, and the world needs you and your light.