We all have labels. Some of them we have given ourselves i.e. “I am too old to do that” or “I am not clever enough”.
But what about the labels which we allow other people to give us?
Sometimes it is simply how we imagine that other people think about us which holds us back!
I was out walking today and saw that several trees on my regular route had been marked with pink spray and a disc, presumably indicating that they are due to be felled. Perhaps due to their position or evident disease, they had been singled out and marked for destruction.
Then I got to thinking about the marks or labels which we give ourselves or, just as importantly, the ones we allow others to give us. From a purely medical point of view, any medical diagnosis often comes with a list of potential symptoms, expectations about how we should look or feel, or a prognosis about what is likely to happen in the future.
Some of this will become a reality, but we are all individuals with the ability to live life according to our own rules and not necessarily a pre-defined and mapped out future. There are very few certainties in life, only a set of likely scenarios which we can choose to accept or defy.
You see, that tree cannot do anything about that pink mark. It can’t defy the odds, buck a trend, exceed expectations or change its future.
We are not that tree; we do not have to allow someone else’s expectations to define what we are capable of or what our future holds.
We get to choose how much of that label we take on.
Sometimes we are held back by the labels given to us by other people, especially when it comes to a medical diagnosis. It is easy to become Beth, the person with a heart condition, Sarah with cancer, Mary with COPD, or Jackie with diabetes.
Yet these are just a medical statement of fact and not a complete representation of a who we are what we can achieve. If we willingly accept that label and all its connotations, do we automatically also accept the worst-case scenario of what that diagnosis could mean?
The name of the diagnosis rarely has much power. It is how we perceive the likely symptoms beneath that diagnosis which so often hold us back – fatigue, pain, memory loss, palpitations, breathlessness – all set up a series of expectations which may or may not become our reality on a day-to-day basis.
I’m not saying that we should not listen to a medical professional and understand the likely spectrum of what that diagnosis could mean, but that it is, after all, just a technical name for a body which does not look act or respond in a totally normal way.
A diagnosis only defines us if we allow it to do so.
Once we take on the full implications of a diagnosis, it becomes easy to see our limitations first, rather than our capability and contribution.
We can’t blame the medical profession for giving us that label, as it just enables them to slot us neatly into a diagnostic box. It is nothing more than an individual set of symptoms which has been given a name.
What that diagnosis generally doesn’t say, is anything about how we cope or live with our various restrictions, how much we are prepared to challenge conventional wisdom regarding our capability, or indeed the power of the human spirit to thrive against great odds.
Having been born with my condition and diagnosed shortly after birth, I have never known my life any other way. But for people who acquire a diagnosis later in life, I often wonder the degree to which knowing about that condition has changed how they see themselves.
Sometimes, ignorance is bliss!
I am not judging people, as I know first-hand how hard it is not to put my health challenges at the forefront of my mind when it comes to defining my goals for the future. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live a life unfettered by the worries and fears which I experience, and how much things might then be different.
Yet this is wasted energy.
I can only live in the here and now, with an awareness of the obstacles I may face in the future, but equally a determination to live fully with the belief that the worst possibilities are not going to happen. If I allow those fears to consume my thoughts, then the only possible outcome would be that I would live less of a life than I’m capable of.
I don’t want to give a bunch of medical words that much power!
So yes, I accept some of my label, but am more determined than ever not to let it dictate my life. I don’t want to be reckless or foolish, but equally I don’t want to miss out because of the what ifs or bad things which might (or might well not) happen.
We all get to choose whether to fully accept our label, or to take on only the basic words and add our own narration to write our life story. And to others who wish to use that label as a fence to pen us in, I say that it is our duty to break through that barrier to prove that our lives are worth so much more than a string of words.
We are doing ourselves a disservice if we act like that tree and allow others to label us with a mark which then defines our destiny. Instead I firmly believe that we are all marked for greatness and not destruction!