Labels. What are they? Do they define who or what we are? Or are we something bigger, greater than a simple word or two? This was my dilemma.
Yesterday, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was feeling quite down about it and thinking “great, another diagnosis, another label that I am” You hear on TV all the time about people with PTSD. Veterans, police officers, paramedics, etc. They are portrayed as people that are crippled by their experiences and that is how they have come to their diagnosis. So, here I am, thinking that I have now been added to the group of people that have been through trauma and have difficulties with it. I was upset because it is another label that the world defines me as. Now, I am no stranger to labels. I have schizophrenia. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Anxiety. So, adding PTSD to the list really rattled me.
I found it very difficult to get out of bed today, in this mindset. I moped around my apartment and barely did anything. I talked to a close friend on the phone but had nothing to say as I was so depressed. “I am sick of the labels and diagnoses.” I said to myself. However, I managed to get dressed and take the bus to my Wednesday evening Toastmasters group. I played a role tonight in the group where I had to count “filler words” as people were speaking. That was a good thing because it enabled me to focus on something other than my own internal thoughts. As the meeting went on, I was asked if I would like to get up and share some of my comedy. I was obliged at the request. I got up in front of the group and I spoke about why I do comedy. Then it dawned on me. I am not a label. I am not a diagnosis. I am a woman, a comedian, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a friend. I have value. Yes, I have schizophrenia, OCD, anxiety and PTSD. Who cares? We as human beings are NOT defined as labels.
I get up and do standup comedy because I want to break that stigma about mental health and its labels. When I started doing comedy, I learned that my illness isn’t a death sentence. Today I learned that you can label me with any disease on the planet, that does not define who I am, what my passions are and what I care deeply about. Diagnoses do not determine my success in life, the friends I make or my happiness. I choose to do standup comedy because it makes me happy. It makes others happy. It chips away at that stigma of labels and diagnoses.
We are not defined by our illnesses. We are intricate, intelligent, loving human beings. We all have a different life story, different interests, friends and family that love us.
As I stood in front of my fellow Toastmasters, I began to tell them that I have schizophrenia but that I wasn’t nervous because the voices in my head laugh at everything I say anyway. I began to tell them jokes of my experiences and different aspects of having a mental illness. What did my fellow Toastmasters do? They laughed. I felt that rush of adrenaline and sheer joy that I was making others laugh, making them feel good and showing that I am not defined by any of my diagnoses. I began to feel good about myself again. I began to feel worthy. Yes, I have been faced with some trying things in life, but there is no way that I am going to let these things define my happiness or my life.
As the evening ended, I was awarded the “spark plug” award for the person of the evening that energized everyone and made an impact. Getting up in front of everyone as they applauded me, I finally knew who I was.
I am not a label. I am not a diagnosis. My name is Ashleigh Singleton and I am important, loved, cared for and compassionate. Yes, I have PTSD. Who cares?