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.
Do 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…