Saying Goodbye to Labels

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A personal essay exploring some of life’s early and pressing questions regarding identity and feelings of being okay.

Poetry / Other
Shannon Reny
Age Rating:

Being True

Listening to and discovering new music on Spotify; doing every (and any) other piece of homework; writing letters to friends to check-in; diving into social media; getting up extra shots at the gym; cleaning my room, and then cleaning it again; playing my violin. These are a few of the ways I have avoided writing this essay for over a month now and although I have been able to avoid sitting down and writing anything, this prompt has never really left my mind and has provided the perfect example of what I want to change this year: my inability to sit in my feelings and actually feel them.

I believe I have become extremely crafty at building a schedule for every day that keeps my mind busy enough to never be allowed to think about much. Just like what I did to avoid this essay, I always want to be moving and going somewhere, towards something, all to eliminate any time I may have to really feel what is going on in my head. It wasn’t until I was forced to stop moving (quite literally because I couldn’t walk for some time after my ACL surgery) during my junior year of high school that I realized I did this. Before then, I simply told myself that I did better when I had a schedule. I remember my mom always joking during the summer that she couldn’t wait for the school year because I was in a better mood and overall a more pleasure to be around when I was on a concrete schedule. I guess you could say I did better with my time when I had little with it. As I look back on it, I begin to wonder if this wasn’t just the first sign of something I would struggle with for years to come.

Going back to the ACL surgery I had junior year, a lot of questions came into my life that, until then, I was able to suppress and ignore with the distraction of sports. I had so whole-heartedly dived into the sports world that when my ability to play was put on hold, the hard, self-analyzing questions I hadn’t allowed myself to think about came rushing in. I began to question what really brought me joy. Was it sports? Or did I just like sports because it provided a distraction for everything else? Did I truly enjoy being so disciplined (possibly obsessive) on topics surrounding my health (for example, nutrition, exercise, and sleep)? Or was it simply a way for me to feel in control of something when things in my life outside of sports seemed so scary and unknown? I began to question what direction I wanted to go after high school. Did I want to play sports at the next level? Did I even want to go to college right away? In a sort of cumulative review of my life (my very short, yet seemingly massive 17 years of life), I began to become aware of and resent the various labels I found on me. I have never wrote this down on paper and shared it with someone, but during this time I realized I was not comfortable with the labels surrounding my sexuality. Because I had never said the words “I am gay,” I believed everyone just assumed I was straight. That scared me because even though I didn’t feel comfortable with the label of gay, I didn’t feel comfortable with people assuming I was straight. From there, I realized that if I said I didn’t feel comfortable with either of those, I would be labeled bi and that didn’t feel right either. Any kind of label on it made me uncomfortable because all these labels had to do with being sexually attracted to someone. Who said it had to all be about who you were or were not attracted to on the basis of sex anyway? What about wanting to be with someone because you just enjoy being in their presence? What about being with them because they challenge you to be a better person? Overall, I discovered I was sad and anxious because I felt confined and trapped in an invisible box. Like the walls of a box that keep you trapped inside, when something is labeled it is given a set of rules that act as a boundary to stay between. I don’t want to put a label on my sexuality because I don’t want to face the tension and hardship that arise when rules are bent or broken. When the time comes, I want to give myself the freedom to act on whatever situation feels right to me and I believe that freedom comes from detaching those labels.

These are only a few of the questions that rose during that time of my life that I can say never really got answered and that state of unknowing left a lot of room for anxiety to creep in. The more I reflect on them, I realize they may never be fully answered and that’s okay. What if the time I stop questioning things is the time I stop growing? It is not the question that needs to be put to rest, but my anxiety and feelings towards them being unanswered that need to be.

I didn’t want to write this paper because I was so scared of confronting these questions again, but I think this is a struggle almost everyone faces in their lives. I wish it was an idea more people felt comfortable talking about because I think we would all benefit greatly from knowing we weren’t alone in this fear. From here, I don’t want to ignore what is going through my head. I want to spend time acknowledging what is there. I want to recognize it and then let it pass. I want to be more mindful and spread that mindfulness to others.

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