Throwing Labels Around: We All Do It and It Needs to Stop

Author: Valery B.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 7.49.58 PMThere are many things that I can tolerate in life: the clicking of a pen, the tapping of a shoe, the blasting of music, the crying of a toddler. As someone that is exposed to these things on a daily, I have built a tolerance towards them and an understanding towards those who contribute to these actions. But, all of these things seem trivial compared to the one thing that I cannot, by any means, tolerate: hearing jokes about Mental Illness. 

She’s so bipolar. Are you OCD? If Binge Eating Disorder exists, then I totally have it; I can’t stop eating! I have heard all of these comments, more than once, in all different types of situations. Although people who like to use these labels most likely do so innocently – not meaning any harm by their chosen terminology -, it shows a massive lack of understanding and education on their part. Let me assure you that if these people truly knew what these illnesses entitled, how severe and life-threatening they are, and what a person feels when he or she is affected, they would not be throwing these words around. Rather, they would never dare to label someone by the aforementioned, knowing that being affected is similar to having an early death sentence, encumbering one’s soul. 

Making someone aware of and educated about Mental Illnesses is a very difficult task to accomplish, especially if that person was never personally or second-handedly affected. Unfortunately, this is something I can infamously testify to. Much like the millions of people who disregard the presence of Mental Illnesses, I would through labels around as if they were candy for everyone’s liking and taking. I remember one particular moment very well, for I believe that it redefined the course of my life. That moment was when I labeled my best friend “anorexic” behind her back. 

I was a frivolous, ignorant, and uncandidly proud 13-year-old girl, sitting on the swimming pool’s bleachers, talking with my two boy friends, who I had not seen all summer long. It was September, 2012, and the competitive swimming season was just beginning – a season that would be my last. I was sitting with my friends and silently analyzing all of the swimmers. Summer was a two-months-too-long season, and I decided to canvas the pool area to see who had drastically changed. I noticed my best friend, who, at the time, I was having a falling-out with. I noticed her stature and her body, and I could not stop myself from the comparison my mind drew. Between her and me, she was always the “thinner”, more-athletic girl. She always got the boys – all two of them – that I had furtive crushes on. She was seemingly loved by all: everyone in our group of friends, all of the older swimmers, and, especially, by my swimming coach, who, somehow, I could never impress. Along  with these attributes, she was an impeccably fast swimmer and an, all-in-all, very kind and beautiful girl. I was jealous of her – always was and, probably, always will be. Exasperated by the rough-patch her and I were experiencing as well as the elaborate comparison I concocted, I turned to the two boys and said, “Look how skinny ____ looks. She must be anorexic.” We made some more, insignificant conversation afterwards, which, frankly, I do not remember; however, our the end of our analytical exchange included my comment, “I would rather be anorexic than fat. But, I could never be strong enough to stop eating.” 

I get sick – emotionally sick – every time I remember these ignorant comments. There was no excuse for the way I threw the label, “anorexic”, around. There was no excuse to my uneducated and unaware mind. If I return to my 13-year-old self and take those words back, I would do so one million times over. If I could apologize to my best friend – who I have neither seen nor spoken to in about three years -, I would do so one million times over; however, these are the things that I will never be able to do. I will never be able to go back and change my words and mind. I will never be able to apologize to my friend without sounding like a fool, like someone who had had to go through several Eating Disorders to understand just how cruel her comments were. Perhaps, if I knew that only two year later, I would be lying on my death bed, completely eradicated by anorexia and bulimia, I would have never said – never even thought – of throwing labels around the way I did. 

Although, as I said, I cannot change the past, I can, however, work towards making the future better. All of my efforts for educating about and spreading awareness of Eating Disorders branch from the comments that I had made to my friend. When I was younger, nobody – not my parents, not my teachers, not my doctors – spoke to me about Eating Disorders. Nobody educated me that these disorders are mental illnesses and not, by any means, individual-made choices. Nobody explained to me that the millions of people who are affected by Eating Disorders yearly comprise the biggest mortality rate amongst all Mental Illnesses. Nobody was there to teach me. But, I will be there to teach someone. 

Ignorance. That is the first thing that causes people to throw labels around. Lack of education. That is the second thing that causes people to throw labels around. Ignorance and lack of education lead to stigma, which then lead to neglect, shame, and isolation. My goal is to reverse these things and, ultimately, feed people the knowledge and awareness that I was starved with as a young adolescent. I would like to head my own organization that will not only unconditionally support men and women who suffer with Eating Disorders, but also that will fights for greater, scholastic education and more-prominent, societal awareness of all Mental Illnesses. I am, however, just one person, so I would like to build a team of people – both young and old – who share my passions and aspirations and who will help me attain my dream. I am going to do everything I possibly can to be successful in my endeavors, for I know that once my goals are met, society will be a better, safer, and more accepting place. 

“Need to bEAT” Campaign for Eating Disorder Research is the first step of my mission, and I would love to get your help. Please contact me if you would like to plan events, put together fundraising proposals, or simply volunteer your time. Together, we have the power to address  and eradicate the most obscure bug in our society: Mental Illness. 

-Valery B.

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