I was listening to NPR last week. It was a story about what it means to be a breast cancer “survivor”. The focus of the story was on the fact that some women find it difficult to relate to that word and struggle with defining its meaning. It got me thinking about the ways we define ourselves. The words or labels we hold onto and those that we tend to forget. After years of work with thousands of breast cancer patients I have often heard them say that they wish they could keep their disease a secret so the world was less likely to label them as sick. As many of you know, I have been fighting my own battle with Lyme disease. I understand what it feels like to live with a disease and therefor a label– a label I have placed on myself. I unconsciously think about my disease so many times throughout my day. I think about my symptoms, my treatment, my journey, my frustration. I have been subconsciously defining myself as a person with Lyme and I have unknowingly allowed this label to trump the all the rest. I didn’t realize I was doing this until I listened to the NPR story. I also didn’t realize how terrible this label made me feel.
I started thinking about all of the negative labels we and others use to define people and ourselves. I have Lyme. I have cancer. I am over-weight. I am have no money. I am anxious. I am single. I am….fill in the blank. I then started thinking about social labels and racial labels that can be derogatory and falsely defining as well. I could go on.
My challenge to all of you on this beautiful fall Monday is to reflect and to challenge the labels you impart on yourself and others. For example: Instead of defining yourself as a person that is unhealthy –challenge that negative voice in your head with all of your positive attributes–and then challenge yourself to do the same for others. I will tell you from personal experience that it can be really hard to sit down and list all of the things that make you great. It feels unnatural and almost self-indulgent. But that doesn’t mean you should not do it.
Share in the comments something you love about yourself. Hell, share ten things! Let go of the icky labels that you use to define yourself and rejoice in all of the beauty of you! Look past the labels you use to define others and consider all of the wonderful attributes they embody as well.
You are amazing, smart, beautiful and deserving,