This week I am thinking about the labels we put on ourselves, the labels other people put on us, and the labels we want. Partly because today is PTSD Awareness Day, and partly because a colleague is celebrating a different diagnosis that has given him relief and closure.
I don’t have PTSD, though I used to wonder if I did. Sometimes when it’s around scan time or I’m having a scare, I still wonder. But then I read other people’s accounts of having PTSD and I think no, that’s not it. It’s nowhere near that bad. So I guess it’s anxiety. There is that need for a label. In an earlier blog post I realised as I was writing that I wanted a label like PTSD because that would mean my fears were all in my head and that in reality, there was nothing to fear. Cancer was no longer something to fear. But that isn’t the case, and my fears are founded in knowledge and experience – though for the past seven years so far my fears of recurrence have been unnecessary. Hopefully it will stay that way, but I know the stress and anxiety will always come and go. A label could help me to know myself better, to explain myself better to others, and for others to maybe understand me more. (I say that as if people would even ask. Of course they wouldn’t.)
I don’t want to dwell on the cancer bit too much because I actually haven’t been thinking about it for a few weeks now and it’s been great! I didn’t realise how great that has been until just now. Though I will say two more things about cancer – number one, PTSD in cancer survivors is not talked about nearly enough. And two, the other day a friend sent me an article to look at and she told me it involved “the big c” as she put it, before I clicked on it. I don’t think she realised, but that warning was actually super helpful. I read the article anyway because it was for work, but I didn’t mind so much when I knew it was coming. A trigger warning, or whatever.
Back to labels, and another thing I’ve been thinking about is being quiet, being introverted, being shy, having social anxiety, whatever. They are all different things but I find it tricky to know which label fits me, and I’ve been thinking lately that I might have had some social anxiety all my life and not really known it. If I did know it, maybe that would help explain why I am the way I am.
Not so much in primary school, but as I got a little older I hated putting my hand up or being picked on to give an answer in class. I hated class debates and the thought of giving a presentation made me feel sick. I was shy around family members we only saw a couple of times a year. Didn’t want to cough during mass because it would attract attention. The same with getting up (to get something or put something in the bin, for example) while everyone else was sat down. Not much has really changed. I’m not good with clients in meetings. I don’t know how to small talk with people I’m not familiar with. I hate phone calls in our quiet office because everyone can hear me talking.
A few weeks ago some work friends were going out to lunch together and I was nervous about going. Why? I have no idea! Two of my closest work friends were going to be there, so it should have been fine. There would be around 7 or 8 of us, and the thought of us all walking to the restaurant and sitting around the table eating together made me anxious. For NO reason. I forced myself to go anyway. And I had a great time. Really lovely. I decided that next time they went out I would go again, even if I had lunch with me. And I did. We went to McDonalds. There were fewer of us this time. It was great. I wish I had said yes those other times I had said no. So a label would help to explain why I am such a ridiculous human being. Why I’m just not good around new people. Why I’m nearly 30 and still feel like – and still sometimes get treated like – a shy little ten year old. I used to think I had so much self-confidence. I don’t know where it went. But cancer is usually a pretty good scapegoat.
Anyway, I don’t know if labels are helpful or not, but it feels like maybe they are. I have the cancer survivor label and wear that with pride because it is part of me. And I love me and all my stupid flaws, whether they are officially labelled or not.