How do labels weigh you down?
When we take on labels, we often find that we are filled with a sense of camaraderie and connectedness to others who share that same label. We put ourselves in a category, and those connections with others grow. But when others put a label on us, we are faced with a legacy to live up to. We become responsible for that label and often weighted down by it.
It’s always difficult to live up to a label, but the labels my friends and family have put on me as a writer are the stones in my pocket, drowning me. Not many people label me as a writer. More often, I’m labeled as “the smart one” or “the one who gets technology” or “the organized high-achiever.” When it comes down to it, I am empathetic, but I have a cool head, and I can manipulate language and technology in impressive ways. These skills have led me to great success in my business. No matter where I’ve worked, I’ve been the person who will fight and advocate for an answer. As a teacher, students came to me to lay down their burdens and stresses. My colleagues often did the same. As a business owner, people have often sought me out to help them navigate something. It has caused me to take on a lot of jobs that aren’t part of my business model, but I also suck at saying no, so I end up taking on whatever people need. In my business, it works. But it’s the expectation of doing it in my personal life that has nearly broken me.
Whenever people in my life need something, they come to me because they know I will do it, fix it, or make sure it is done or fixed. For example, I’ve done taxes for so many people in my life because I’m responsible. It’s also a result of my ability to patiently complete a series of questions and find the answers, specifically as applied to technology. When it comes to filling out forms, I’m the person people call. It’s not because they can’t read or interpret things themselves. It’s because they trust me more than they trust themselves. I also think it’s a bit of them wanting to blame someone else if something goes wrong, but that’s not the point of this piece.
This responsibility has become a bigger weight as my parents age. My mom and dad need me more, but my husband and adult kids also need me. My husband barely opens his own mail. My kids call me about every piece of paper they get. And my mom, who is dealing with my dad’s rapidly progressing dementia, is struggling to do it all on her own. I love each and every minute I get to spend with all of them, and I am so happy I can help them, but it doesn’t diminish the weight that I feel. And it’s an even greater pressure when I think about who else is there to do what I do: no one. My brother cannot help my parents. My kids can’t help my husband, and my husband can’t help my kids. It’s all on my shoulders. And it shows up in some mentally taxing ways. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by death. Partially because my mom worked in a nursing home that I would visit but also because I was attracted to the knowledge those at the end of their life shared, so I would find myself bonding with them. It’s an odd skill to have, but death doesn’t scare me or intimidate me. I don’t struggle with my own mortality. I just respect the process of life, which includes death. That’s not to say I’m not sad when someone dies either. But I can be empathetic, sympathetic, and still function at a high level. Many, many years ago when funeral homes started playing slideshows at funerals, my grandma passed away. Her slideshow was an expense the family couldn’t afford, and they felt her photos were too precious to trust with the funeral home. So I put together a DVD with her pictures and music. I also wrote her obituary rather than trusting the local newspaper to accurately write what the family wanted to convey. A year later, I did the same for my grandpa. A few years later, my other grandma. Year after year, I put together funeral DVDs and wrote obituaries for people I loved or who were loved by my family and friends. It’s a gift that I’m grateful I can give, but it’s another label that weighs me down.
Recently, my mom and I went to get funeral arrangements made for her, my dad, my brother, my husband, and myself. It’s the responsible thing to do, and I’m hoping it takes some of the pressure off of me when something happens. My mom kept looking at me to make decisions. For her. For my dad. For my brother. The pressure is enormous. And it’s all because of my labels. There’s really nothing to do about it. There isn’t someone else out there who can do these things. But some days, I need to shed my labels. I need to be free of the responsibilities of those labels. I need to be able to relax—to breathe. What labels have been weighing you down lately?