Life is a roller coaster, not a merry-go-round. In addition to joy, laughter, satisfaction, happiness, and love, life is peppered with loss, betrayal, distress, disappointment, anger. I am concerned with a trend in society to quickly label and medicate whenever moods turn dark or agitated. Certainly, diagnostic labels are helpful in making sense of symptoms and formulating treatment plans. Psychotropic medications are increasing useful in returning individuals to higher levels of functioning. But there is a growing tendency to label all deviations from happiness as bad and something to be avoided at all costs. Idiosyncrasies are out and uniformity is in. Labels start to fly when we are mad and frustrated with someone and unwilling to stay open to their different views and ways of doing things. Attention to detail becomes “anal retentive,” passion, anger, and suspicion become “borderline,” lack of attentiveness becomes “ADD”, sadness, loneliness, and the blues become “depression.” Tears are described as “losing it” or “breaking down.” Labeling is often a refusal to listen and accept. It’s a way to feel superior. Labeling blocks understanding and closeness. Labeling pathologizes life.
I’m thinking of a recent situation when my beloved Isaac (OK, he’s really a cat) disappeared for several days. I feared the worst because he is an indoor cat without front claws. I made elaborate signs with enlarged color pictures and I paced the neighborhood many times calling his name. I became very upset. My wife held me as I sobbed a couple of times. I could have been labeled as both hysterical and obsessive/compulsive. But I honored my fears and emotions and so did Christine. Of course, like most cats, Isaac returned after a few days of adventure and hunger. By being loved instead of labeled, I was open to learn several lessons: that I care deeply, that I am vulnerable to great pain, and that I am accepted and loved. I also revisited my grief over losing my parents. I believe the soul needs these excursions into darkness from time to time. Labels block and starve the soul while acceptance of idiosyncrasy gives it room to breathe.