Labels, I don’t like them. However, being a vegan (yep, a label) does warrant a need for labels on certain foods, i.e. has a cheeky pinch of milk powder gotten into this whole-food power bar, or is there animal bi-product in this bottle of wine? (why ALL wines are not vegan is beyond me). I try to live as simply as possible, not thinking about designer labels and trying desperately not to label and judge others due to their political views or dislike of animals (although in my eyes, animals are the best)
So there you go, I can’t deny that labels have taken on a vital role in our society. We are labelled as soon as we are named as children. We’re labelled at school to help with the testing system, seen as mass rather than individuals. We’re labelled at work with our job titles. We’re labelled depending on the colour of our skin or the god we worship. Labels are un-escapable, not just in the modern world, they’re part of our history and traditions too. It distinguishes left from right, the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’, it can give people a reason to feel powerful, the hierarchy of society – high to low. It’s safe to say we invest much of our sense of self into the labels bestowed upon us, or the labels we willingly adopt to fit in, merging with a tribe that suits us best. However, the most damaging labels can be the ones we give ourselves, building a limiting story and often being so far removed from our souls purpose that ‘failure’ is the most believed label, even before we give life a good shot.
However, over the past few months I’ve been discovering there are moments when labelling yourself can be the most healing decision, the only decision in order to surrender into feelings. To label the pain in order to admit it, no matter how dark, this can often be the only way to move forward.
“What’s happening to me, why am I feeling like this, am I going mad? Oh shit, I’m a crazy woman!” Leaving ourselves open, like a free for all for every emotion, not knowing why or how or what we’re experiencing can be the scariest thing of all. This has been my reaction to life for the past… well many years now. I’ve not wanted to label any of my thoughts, I’ve been leaving my front door open for a miracle to casually float into my erratic space and clean up the trash I’m pilling high. All has been a whirlwind because of my refusal to admit to myself; to lean into my discomfort, to scoop up the rising issue that I’ve been battling over the years. The truth of the story is, the agoraphobia I once ‘suffered’ many years ago has returned and it ain’t going anywhere, not right now anyway.
I didn’t want to admit this to myself as I’ve been here before, riding the road to recovery when I was 15. Being labelled agoraphobic at such a young age was one of the most difficult paths ever I’ve taken and this is why I don’t like labels, this is the story I’ve been running from, trying so frantically to erase.
“You can’t do this again, you’ve already battled this, you’ve conquered this already so don’t let it come back, you’re too old to be going through childhood trauma again… GET OVER IT! You have to, your future depends on it” Yes, I’ve been that harsh on myself and when I see those words written, just as I hear them in my head, I know I’d certainly never speak to another being like that, so why so hard on myself? This is why writing is so healing and marvellous on many levels. Reading the hateful words I genuinely felt, seeing them on the screen has been the dose of medicine I so greatly needed.
Battle, that’s the word I needed to see, battling myself, battling the labels, battling my way through life so I don’t have to sit through that pain I once persevered. Battling against myself. What craziness to be at war with ourselves, yet it can be the easiest habit to fall into, so readily done each and every day.
I did battle agoraphobia when I was young; I refused to go to school, as it became such an impossible task. I couldn’t socialise, I felt weak, pathetic, the black sheep as I couldn’t do all the things my friends were doing to live a ‘normal’ teenage life. I was at home, all the time. I was reading about alternative methods to heal (blessed with a mum who believed in the holistic path, who shared her knowledge and who loved me unconditionally) as I refused to take drugs, knowing even then that mood suppressants were not the fix I needed. However, as my whole family was included in this battle and we were being inspected regularly by social services, the need for my recovery was getting stronger. The law instructed that I had to get back into the classroom so it became a necessity to find a way to immerse myself back into the scary world, even if that meant jumping before I was ready.
Every effort was made to mask the open wound; I had GCSE’s to take and due to persistent reminders from the external world that I’d surely fail in life if I didn’t take my exams, I had no choice but to plaster up and face the world. I hated being the sensitive girl; the girl who wouldn’t go to the pub or the sleazy clubs that seemed so vital in the girl-snogs-boy process (it was the 90’s, snogging was our favourite word). I didn’t understand why I felt this way, even after a year of therapy the mystery of this complex mind matter continued. I’d been classed as mentally ill and I needed to be like everybody else to prove I was no longer sick.
I see now that although I did recover in order to continue with school, finish my exams and go onto university, I was running off the wrong fuel, adrenaline was overriding the pain, I’d planted my seeds in completely the wrong conditions, they were suffocating.
I did get back into the world, I did make it to the pubs and clubs and drink vodka most weekends even though it tasted like every sip was stripping away a part of my intestinal wall. Although I was back in the game, I’d made it, I’d battled an illness that was only working against me, my soul was deeply aware that I was so far removed from the real ‘me’. The cracks were deepening and I was craving something else… of course at the time, I didn’t know what.
The label of agoraphobia that I’d once found so debilitating, so isolating and uncomfortable is one I never thought I’d be facing again. “I can do it, I’m powerful, I’m bigger than my fears, I’m strong, I’m strong, I’m strong” Yes, I am all those things but I am also sensitive and shy and scared sometimes and I cry about things that happened over 15 years ago. And that is all OK. I’m done with battling, war never leads to peace, war never leads to forgiveness and love and acceptance.
So here I am, I’m labelling myself as agoraphobic, not because I want to slump into the pit of despair about the difficulties in my life at the moment or feed the struggle I face being in busy, public places. It’s not because I want to throw my hands in the air and say, ‘you got me agoraphobia, I give up, I’m not trying anymore’. I’m ready to step into this label again because I want to honour the girl I was, who fought so hard to become the woman I am today. I’m honouring her tears and pleas for self-love when all she could feel was shame and guilt and distance. I want to breathe hope and compassion into every moment of panic; I want to cradle the inner child that never recovered properly, who never got to express her true feelings or desires. I want to edit each page, adding words of strength next to words of fear, to become the healer I wanted to become before the filler of quick fixes hardened across the seeping wound.
I’m labelling myself agoraphobic as sometimes you have to take full ownership of something before you can let it go.
Agoraphobia is only one part of my story, it’s part of my now but that doesn’t mean it has to be written into my future. All I can do right now is inhale light and exhale acceptance until this chapter ends. If anxiety must live alongside my true being then all I can do is promise my soul that I’ll continue to listen and never declare war on myself, ever again.