Beyond Labels

labels, these arrangements of letters put upon us by oppressors of all kinds– especially ourselves. “happy”. “sad”. “manic”. “balanced”. “sick”. “well”. “functioning”. “unproductive”. “mentally ill”. “mentally healthy”. “acceptable”. “normal”, or otherwise.

a word, today, i see as nothing more than a cloak: one thrown over the mind, the identity, eventually the soul. some are deceptively well-meaning– word-cloaks that imply you’ve “made it”, that you’re properly “fitting in”, “acting acceptably”, “being appropriate”. others, of course, are so thick and heavy that they smother, in the snap of a finger, the very essence of your being: “bipolar”. “depressed”. “schizophrenic”. “borderline”, to name a few.

these words i’m using to write these very sentences– it must be said they barely touch the essence of what i really, truly, feel about this matter. for all words make sentences, sometimes lifelong ones.

becoming an ex-mental patient is about far more than shedding the psychiatric labels that have come to define our lives and determine what psychoactive chemicals may be circulating in our bloodstreams, electrical currents through our brains, restraints around our ankles or wrists, plastic mattresses beneath our backs.

it’s also about shedding the labels on the flip side, the ones that arise out of the Myth of Normality, this false prophet we’ve come to worship as though it’s only before its knees and in its phantom mold that we might feel like we’ve finally “arrived”. for it’s there– beyond not just the dark prison bars of the so-called “mental health system”, but also the bright, glistening, well-manicured lawns of the put-together-high-functioning-smiling-with it-successful-accomplished-perfect-happy American Dream– that we become truly free. free to feel it all– all that comes with being alive in this world, especially the agony and despair and angst. free to simply be. not to Be Something. just to be, whether that being agonizingly hurts or feels entirely peaceful or quietly aches or sends surges of pleasure through every cell.

freedom is when you have no words that follow your being, for those lettered cloaks that once covered the indefinable essence of what it is to be alive have been shed in your wake.

i am grateful that i’m free to yearn and struggle and suffer and feel peace and joy and purpose and passion and cry and scream and ache in those fields beyond all words. if we’re to build a future beyond the Mental Health Industry, it’s there. and they run on and on and on, unendingly. there’s space for all of us there, to be indefinable.


“Wheatfields Under Thunderclouds”, by Vincent Van Gogh.