Labeling yourself (or others) “I am [insert illness]”


Are you an illness (label)?

A topic that sometimes comes up in my circles is the use of the “be” verb with medical or mental illnesses. Have you ever noticed that for some illnesses people say “I am [insert illness]” or “He is [insert illness]”? Some specific examples of this labeling include “I am bipolar”, “I am schizophrenic”, “I am an addict”, “I am diabetic”, and “I am epileptic”. I find that strange, especially because you would never say “I am a headache”, or “I am cancer”.

Stigma and labels are pretty similar terms when talking about giving a person illness labels, just as they are in labels such as “He is a nerd”, or “She is a skeez”. No matter what the description is, it is usually (with some exceptions) negative in some way, or was negative historically in some way. Stigma and such labeling of people has been in the past, and continues to be (in some ways), based on a lack of information, misunderstanding, and in some cases, fear. People who “are” the illness are more often judged, than those who “have” an illness.

In the mental health community, there is an effort to discourage the use of the “be” verb when labeling yourself or others with an illness. Saying “I have bipolar disorder”, or “I have alcoholism” is strongly preferred by organizations like the National Alliance On Mental Illness, an organization focused on fighting the stigma of mental illnesses. Strangely, as referenced, many people who even have the illnesses in question continue to use the “be” verb and identify themselves “as the illness”.

When asked to use the “have” verb instead of the “be” verb, many people with the illness say that they don’t feel saying “I am bipolar”, as an example, is bad. They don’t mind it. But I think they should. I think such labeling still breeds stigma, even if done so unconsciously. Just because it is how it has always been said, doesn’t mean it should continue to be said that way. Such labeling also implies that the person feels the illness is part of their identity, but I think that implies that a person can never fully stabilize (or recover) from their illness. Either way, I think it is a negative way of labeling people with certain illnesses, and a bad example to pass on to future generations.

I am - bigger photoDo you use the “be” verb in some cases to label a person who has an illness?  I hope that you rather concentrate on the many positive facets of yourself and others, and let them shine brightest.

I am a survivor.

I am a giving and loving person.

I am a dancer.

I am a bird in flight. I am…





31 thoughts on “Labeling yourself (or others) “I am [insert illness]”

  1. jacquelineobyikocha March 20, 2017 / 4:14 pm

    Here are my thoughts on labelling that I shared on my video. Our ailments, profession, etc is not who we are.


    • Joyful2bee April 5, 2017 / 12:34 pm

      I never thought about this behavior. But you are so right. Positive affirmations are certainly more helpful than negative titles. Thank you for an eye opening blog post.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. updownflight March 20, 2017 / 5:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing your video post in my comments, JACQUELINEOBYIKOCHA. I’m pretty sure that anyone that watches your video will be happy they did.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. updownflight March 20, 2017 / 8:23 pm

    Thanks so much, Invest Hood! I did visit your blog and I think your blog idea is excellent! I’m now a follower. I posted a comment there, as well.


  4. lovecommacancer March 23, 2017 / 2:48 am

    Interesting thoughts on using the verb “to have” instead of “to be” w/mental or physical illnesses. In French and Spanish (and probably other languages), when you are stating your age, you say “I have ____ years” instead of “I am ______ years old.” Age is something you have in a moment, I guess, and not what you ARE. I’ll need to keep thinking about this–thanks for giving me something new to contemplate. By the way, I also posted on the word “Label” the other day, but I don’t think I followed the instructions correctly (it doesn’t seem to be on the list), but if you’d like to read it, please do! I’m a new blogger and would love your feedback. Here’s the link: Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts on labels!

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight March 23, 2017 / 12:45 pm

      Hi lovecommacancer. Thank you for sharing about the use of “have” in terms of age in French and Spanish. My husband and I have been comparing English to his native language of Czech. He says in Czech they also use “have” when mentioning their age. He was also talking about how when they describe being cold, they say “I am cold ‘to me'”. He said if they just say “I am cold”, it is like saying you’re frigid sexually. One could spend years studying why certain words were chosen in conjunction with others. It would be a very fascinating type of study, wouldn’t it?

      I’ll definitely take a look at your post about “label”. I’ll do so today. As for getting your Daily Post response post up with the other tiles, this is what I do:

      Click the blue “Post about ‘word du jour'” button in the relevant Daily Post. This launches an empty post for you to write in. There you’ll see something like “via Daily Prompt: Some Word du Jour” in your empty post screen. I then write my post under that message. In my post I include the word of the day at least once, then I make a hyperlink out of it to the Daily Post thread (the link where the tiles are). Then I make sure to include the word “postaday” (no quotes) as one of my tag words. Once I publish, it appears as a Daily Post tile a couple of minutes later. If you need any further clarification on this, please let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lovecommacancer March 23, 2017 / 11:12 pm

        In French and Spanish people “have” cold/hot, but things “are” cold/hot. If you say “Je suis pleine” (I am + “full”) it means you’re pregnant, but you CAN say that a glass is full. We could go on and on and I’mm sure there are loads of linguists out there who do spend whole careers studying this sort of thing!

        Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight April 5, 2017 / 7:55 am

      Thank you for sharing my post! I appreciate that. I’m glad if it is helpful for people.


  5. Robert Matthew Goldstein April 5, 2017 / 7:36 pm

    I agree with you in principle but speaking from personal experience I can say that sometimes, you have to ‘be’ an illness to accept the fact that you have it.

    It’s difficult to integrate a complex illness into one’s life, especially the mental illnesses.

    Our entire culture wants to pretend that serious mental illness don’t exist.

    A successful member of Alcoholics Anonymous might say that ‘being’ an alcoholic is essential to her recovery because the primary symptom of alcoholism is denial with drinking a secondary symptom.

    For the first few years after I was diagnosed with DID I had to ‘be’ a dissociative because I had to spend most of my time unlearning the ‘stigma’ based legends about the illness in order to understand how the real illness affected my real life.

    At this point, I am more stable and in less denial so it’s easier for me to live as a person with DID.

    But getting here required me to embrace the illness and make it mine.

    BTW, I nominated you for the 5-day music challenge. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight April 5, 2017 / 7:57 pm

      Hi Robert Matthew. Thank you for sharing your perspective on my labeling post. You know, some of us certainly do look at our illnesses in a different way at different times. I’m glad that how you’ve looked at yours has played some part in your recovery and/or acceptance. For me, I got to the point where I wanted to be ME again in the way I mentioned in my post. My new way of looking at it has helped me put it in the right place for me. I don’t deny that I have bipolar type 1, and I don’t ignore it by quitting meds, therapy, or the practice of proper self-care, but I try to put it to the side in a place I feel good about.

      Thanks for the nomination. I’ll have to read more about the 5-day music challenge. I’m fairly new here and hadn’t read about it until now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Matthew Goldstein April 5, 2017 / 8:05 pm

        It sounds like we’re saying pretty much the same thing. Making one aspect of our lives the sum total of who we are is constraining. But sometimes making one aspect the focus for awhile is part of the path toward freedom. It sounds as if you’ve learned how to take care of yourself which means you’re not a slave to your symptoms.

        Some people with bi-polar illness waste years of their lives needlessly suffering because of denial.

        Liked by 1 person

      • updownflight April 5, 2017 / 8:07 pm

        That’s true. I’ve encountered many of those people in denial. Before my diagnosis I was in denial that anything major was wrong. I did have to hit a terrible bottom before I finally accepted it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight April 12, 2017 / 12:53 pm

      Thank you again for reblogging my post Labeling yourself (or others) “I am [insert illness]”


  6. sally April 29, 2017 / 6:03 pm

    I used to have a problem with the B word, too. But because my therapist refuses to label anyone, I make a point of telling people that ‘I am a person’ who has bipolar disorder, that’s if I tell them at all.

    I have thought a lot about the stigma of mental illnesses versus the acceptance of physical ones. It seems to me that illnesses fall into categories; some bad (or even unmentionable) and others that are generally accepted. I have diabetes, I have high blood pressure, I have a hernia, even I have a broken leg are totally understood by the general public, but to have any kind of mental illness is not only misunderstood, but feared. People are usually afraid of things they no little about. Education on mental illnesses would seem to be the preferred way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight April 29, 2017 / 7:56 pm

      Yes, the general public definitely needs more education about mental illness and I don’t think TV shows are doing that good of a job of it. I think the governments should educate people more, but there’s probably a fat chance of that happening in my country right now.


  7. sentimentalscientist May 3, 2017 / 12:36 pm

    As someone who has been to countless therapists for bipolar II, I definitely get where you’re coming from. The distinction I tend to make that lets me feel comfortable about not adding stigma to the community is that I use “have” with other people. So if I need to explain something to a friend I would say, “I have bipolar” or “My roommate has OCD”. But when I am trying to modify or accept my situation, like telling myself I need to stay on my meds no matter how normal I feel, saying “I am bipolar” is more useful to me. I’m glad you left the post open ended for discussion though because the pull between identity and mental illness is just too complex to make absolute statements. I really struggle to ask myself what strategies are worth pursuing to minimize stigma. Is it better for me to try to talk about how mental illness doesn’t completely define a person or how it isn’t a shameful identity? When there isn’t time or space to explain both, which one takes priority?

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight May 3, 2017 / 12:53 pm

      Hi sentimentalscientist. Thank you for reading my post about labeling.

      I completely see why you and others would use the “I am bipolar” as a reminder to yourself to accept it and stay on meds, but I think using the “have” is a preferable choice when discussing the disorder with the public. Just my opinion.

      Perhaps it is indeed because I’ve had the disorder for so long now that my acceptance is full, and that I have moved on to other things that I’d rather have define me. I must also take my meds. I don’t always love the idea, but it’s gotten to the point where they are now just another task in life I must do, like sleep or dishes. I’d like to define myself as a strong, patient, persistent, giving, loving, and open-minded woman first. I want to see myself as a lover of writing, nature, music, and dance first, too.

      I enjoy writing about bipolar disorder sometimes because I want to help educate the public and fight stigma, and maybe help people with bipolar disorder who are at the beginning of their journeys. I also like to hear from others because there is still so much to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. sentimentalscientist May 3, 2017 / 1:11 pm

    I did state my preference for using “have” with others, so that’s a confusing intro.

    I don’t think acceptance is ever really full, more of a factual fluctuation, but I know there are certainly times where it is possible and beneficial to be to able to shift attention to something less hellish. I’m glad that you’re at a point where you get to focus on the things you want though! It’s a wonderful thing that demands celebration 🙂

    I don’t want to eat up too much of your comments section or time, so succinctly: thanks for the article! Have a good day!


    • updownflight May 3, 2017 / 2:43 pm

      Thank you for your contribution to this topic. I hope you have a good day, too. I’m sorry if anything I wrote came across wrong.


      • updownflight May 3, 2017 / 3:01 pm

        I’m glad. I’m sorry. Today I just haven’t felt like I’ve expressed myself well.


  9. Kerrie May 5, 2017 / 4:21 am

    Hi updownflight! This is an interesting topic and I’ve found myself increasingly aware of how I refer to bipolar in the last couple of years. In the beginning I definitely used the “I’m bipolar” phrase a lot, and at that time I didn’t see that changing the way I referred to it would make any difference to me or others. I’m not sensitive to that type of thing in general.
    But curiously after I started making an effort to say “I have” instead of “I am”, I really started to be able to separate myself from the illness more, and these days I am leaning toward believing the wording does actually have an impact on the stigma associated with mental illness. So I agree a lot with the point you’re making 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight May 5, 2017 / 12:51 pm

      Hi Kerrie. It is interesting how changing the wording makes some changes in perceptions of things. I’m glad that you are able to separate yourself from the bipolar illness more. You are certainly much more than just an illness.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. ladyfibrowarrior May 21, 2017 / 3:03 am

    I love this. I never thought about it in this way. I’m so glad you shared. I now have a new way of thinking. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • updownflight May 21, 2017 / 6:34 am

      I’m glad you liked this post, ladyfibrowarrior, and that this topic may have resonated with you.

      Liked by 1 person

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