So, I just got done grading all of my finals – thank the Lord – and was thinking about a question I posed to my Intro to Sociology class. It was about labeling and how we either try to live up to them…live down to them…and then their lasting impact on our lives.
Some of the labels my students talked about broke my heart. So many said they had been labeled as ‘fat’, ‘dumb’, ‘annoying’, etc. and regardless of anything, they still feel the pressure and anxiety from it. For example, one of my students said that he was chubby during childhood and was labeled the ‘fat kid’. Even though he went on to play athletics in Jr. High and High School and became very fit and slim, he still carries that early message with him and said he is ‘extremely’ conscious about his weight still. That made me so sad for him!
And even positive labels can be stressful. Students talked about how they had been labeled ‘smart’ or ‘good’ and constantly feel the pressure to maintain that…pushing themselves to get perfect grades or always being nice.
Anyhoot, Terri and I started talking about labels too and both of us have been labeled as ‘too emotional’ and ‘too sensitive’ (big surprise there 🤨).
We’re aware that the label is correct…we’re conscious of our impassioned reactiveness and how it’s seen by others. The emotional load we carry is hard and being so sensitive, empathic, passionate, emotional, etc. is burdensome at times…hard on us….exhausting. The effect it has on us causes anxiety in terms of the storms inside of us and then the reproval we might face. It’s not easy having all of that simmering inside us.
But right now, the label that’s pressuring me the most is this: ‘Kristi is always energetic and happy and talkative and always smiles!’ (do I need commas between these? 🙄). And I try so hard to live up to this! Sometimes it’s easy because I am truly happy and energetic and my life is going great and I express it openly. However, that’s just something that’s not possible for me to do right now and it’s making me feel guilty and anxious.
People at school say “Wow! You’re doing so well!” because I put on that label mask: I smile and chuckle (there’s no way I can even fake a laugh) and find the reserves of energy I need in my classroom and with my colleagues. When I’m asked “How are you?” I say “I’m doing good!” I don’t want to tear up…or talk about my grief…or show my pain. I feel like I can’t since it goes against what’s expected of me. Or most likely, what I FEEL is expected of me.
See, I continue this even with my family and friends. I text with my usual exclamation points and chat with people with smiles and excitement. And then I get home. And I sit…and stare…and draw…and crochet…and write…and do anything I possibly can to distract myself from the negative emotions I need to express. It’s almost as if the label has become so internalized that I can’t NOT live up to it even when I’m alone. For fuck sakes, I don’t want Edward and Mally to get upset or scared.
How do I start to refute this label…this performance? How do I go against a lifetime of ‘happy’ and now show my grief for ma? I think this charade is preventing the avalanche that’s going to happen when I do. I also think it’s going to be something that only 1 person could ever help me with…and ma’s just not here.
I like being single in so many ways! The financial freedom…eating what I want…sleeping when I want…knowing if I put something down, it will be there when I come back. I like the quietness and privacy and knowing that my home is all mine. But…and there’s always a but…this is a time in my life when I need a ‘someone’ so bad. Someone to hug me…listen to me reminisce about ma and look at the photo books I’ve made…let me vent and then validate me when I do. Being alone is tough right now. I want to wave a magic wand and have that someone (who can sing country songs 🤠) just be there. That’s all. Just be there for me and then of course, me for them.
In the meantime…probably decades 🙄…I’m traversing this ‘alone’ in a lot of ways. Yes, Terri and Ollie are wonderful! T and I talk everyday and her support is huge. I don’t know what I’d do without her! But I was thinking the other night that everyone in my family has someone all their own: Ollie has his girlfriend and they are like an old married couple…Terri has Dan and they support each other so much…my nephews have their spouses and kids…and even all of my friends live with someone who’s simply there.
You know, I miss ma more than I can ever express. We talked everyday…saw each other multiple times a week…traveled together…ate together…played games together…sewed together…went to holiday gatherings together…went to ball games together. In other words, she was my someone. The one who was also alone, and with me we made a ‘together.’
I guess I need to lessen the hold this label has on me. Try to overcome the perceived demands this has on me. Work to understand that expressing negative emotions is valid for me…that I can cry and be upset and not smile and that it’s ok to do so. And I need to do this. I need to mourn ma. And I don’t think I’ve even started yet.
Love you ma. Love you more.