How Society Labels Each and Everyone of Us……..

Dementia has taught me so much, about stigma, about expectation but also about society itself……a heavy topic you may think! So here begineth a long ramble but please read….

When I was diagnosed I was suddenly labelled……and we’re labelled all throughout life.

This current label made me realise how I’ve rarely conformed to the labels society has thrust upon me throughout along the way. I’ve never conformed to type so have always been seen as a bit of an odd ball, as someone once said to me 🙄. Battling labels and expectation throughout life has maybe allowed me to fight the label of dementia in the way I do?

The labels handed out to each of us creates assumptions and expectations. Take my life for example……

At 15 I was conforming….I got 8 ‘O’ levels and conveniently slotted into my label and adhered to expectation and went onto do 3 A Levels. However, this is where I started to let society down……because I was also a sports freak and in those days the two often didn’t sit comfortably within an all female school. I wasn’t expected to pass my A Levels because I concentrated so much on tennis and sport in general. So imagine their surprise when I did get 3 A levels…….

So with 3 A levels I was ‘expected’ to go to University, but that didn’t interest me. I wanted to do sport, but females of the day didn’t ‘do’ sport, so I was forced down the College route to be a PE teacher, but ‘failed’ after 18 months. The College environment wasn’t for me, even though I loved teaching.

Because I was seen as a ‘failure’, I couldn’t get a job so went into voluntary work. I was then employed in that job as, surprise, surprise, I could do the job.

Moving around the country, for a variety of reasons, I found myself unable to find a job which matched my ability because I hadn’t followed societies rules……

In the 1980’s I suddenly fitted back into society as I got married and had children. Society was comfortable with me once more as I conformed to expectation.

On becoming a single parent, the stigma label reappeared….how could you possibly give a single parent a job? – far too unreliable…..I got several cleaning jobs to avoid the benefit system and suddenly I was labelled further down the ladder for taking on that job.

My 3 A levels buried under the label …..why would anyone employ a cleaner to be a receptionist and even more a problem, I was a single parent cleaner…..horrors amongst horrors……but someone saw my potential (and has been a friend ever since) and convinced the manager that I must be organised, have certain skills and want to work…….

I climbed my way through life, batting away labels and expectation along the way.

Of course, I never remarried – another case of me letting down society’s expectation. For me to be happy when single, well…. there must be something wrong with me……..

I climbed as high as I wanted in the NHS, but I refused to climb higher. I didn’t want the managerial stuff which would take me away from the job, people and nurses I loved…….not conforming once more. But this is also why I think so many people are in the wrong job. Promoted for the wrong reason with the wrong skills. Just because someone has ‘manager’ in their title doesn’t mean they have the skills to manage people. They may have years of experience and be good at their own job, but managing people requires different skills that aren’t natural to all.

And now to my current label, that of someone with dementia. In the beginning I  suddenly became invisible as that’s what people with dementia do……

But then I began to speak out as I wasn’t prepared to conform to this label of silence and the diagnosis being ‘the end’ – society’s expectation of how someone with dementia should behave. It was then society that began to question my diagnosis. How could I have opinions when I had dementia? How could I type when I had dementia. How could I speak out and have views? I wasn’t conforming so society began to question my actions…

The ultimate challenge to society was my book…..how could I possibly write a Sunday Times Best Seller when I have dementia?

Throughout life we find ourselves going in and out of this cycle of labelling and expectation. For some society wins and brings the person down.

Achieving great things academically labels you as worthy of a specific level of job. But academic achievement doesn’t always translate into being happy in that job. When students achieve great things academically we celebrate, we’re proud, but when their job then doesn’t match their qualification we often see them as a failure as they havn’t achieved their potential. The doctor who leaves to become a farmer is suddenly a failure for example, even though they’re very happy….
I’ve seen so many made to feel failures simply because they’ve chosen not to conform or simply, through them being unable to find a job to match their qualification have been labelled failures and have sunk.

Why don’t we simply celebrate their achievements and let them be happy in whatever job they choose?

Intelligence and Happiness are often uneasy bedfellows. Why not allow anyone to do a job they are happy doing instead of expecting people to fit into boxes according to their academic achievements, unless they wish and are lucky enough to be able to go in that direction?.
People without qualifications have achieved great things, those with high qualifications have found themselves in lesser jobs. If both are happy what does it matter?

At the end of reading this have you read it thinking, ‘How can a person with dementia write such comments. You see me as a person with dementia, not as a person capable of having an opinion.

People often find themselves in a situation that doesn’t  conform with society’s labels and expectation. So often though, the label dominates how we see those people……some labels can be positive but more often have a negative effect

‘Homeless’ masks the skills and talents once had
‘Failure’ in finding the job society expects, masks the academic intelligence………… ‘Mental Health issue‘ is seen as a weakness instead of someone strong enough to seek help……

‘Dementia’ masks the person beneath the condition

SEE THE PERSON beneath the label forced upon them…………………….you maybe surprised at the person you find…..

About wendy7713

On the 31st July 2014 I was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia. I may not have much of a short term memory anymore but that date is one I’ll never forget. I’m 58 years young, live happily alone in Yorkshire, have 2 daughters and I’m currently still in full time employment in the NHS. However, I’m now in the process of taking early retirement to give me a chance of enjoying life while I’m still me. I've started this blog to allow me, in the first instance, to write all my thoughts before they’re lost. If anyone chooses to follow my ramblings it will serve as a way of raising awareness on the lack of research into Alzheimer's. It will hopefully convey the helplessness of those diagnosed with dementia, as there is no cure – the end is inevitable. However, I’m also hoping I can convey that, although we've been diagnosed, people like me still have a substantial contribution to make; we still have a sense of humour; we sill have feelings. I’m hoping to show the reality of trying to cope on a day to day basis with the ever-changing environment that dementia throws at those diagnosed with the condition. What I want is not sympathy. What I want is simply to raise awareness.

27 thoughts on “How Society Labels Each and Everyone of Us……..

  1. I think you have hit the nail on the head, Wendy. Like you, I have always seen myself as a non-conformist. I have worked in a whole range of areas and have loved most of them until I stopped loving them, so moved on to something else. I left school at 15, with 8 GCE “O” levels, because I didn’t want to go on and do my “A”levels (much to everyone’s horror). In many of the jobs that I have done I have been told that I was an odd fit – in most I have gone on to be highly successful. I eventually went back to “school” at 56 completing a double degree in psychology and sociology and a Masters in Clinical Psychology. I have always refused to be defined by a label and am certainly not prepared at this stage of my life to start….dementia or not. I love your story and your openess – perhaps I also recognise a kindred free spirit – keep on living well, outside the square.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent comment. I admire those who don’t push for promotion because they believe their current job is more worthwhile for them; ditto for those who ‘drop out’ from conventional paths often in order to be a caring member of society. Thank goodness there are people who, like you, persevere and achieve , not just benefitting yourself but others too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved your post today, I started reading your blog after hearing you on a podcast. I think in order to survive we have to adapt and that rarely meshes with what we’re supposed to do.
    Thankyou

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A wonderful blog!So often people see the disability NOT the person.I am ,permanently,in a wheelchair due to M.S. but my electric wheelchair is my legs and gives me freedom and independence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wendy, this post is wonderful.

    You wrote: “‘Mental Health issue‘ is seen as a weakness instead of someone strong enough to seek help……” — yes, that describes me. I have been labelled with PTSD. Before I was given that label, when I first sought help for my mental health issues way back in 1968 when I was not quite 14 years old, I was labelled with schizophrenia. Post traumatic stress disorder did not become an official psychiatric label until 1980, so the schizophrenia label was often used in its place at that time.

    I have had many doctors and therapists tell me over the years that I was misdiagnosed, that I do not have schizophrenia. And yet, what if I did have it, would that make me any less human? Certain people in my family of origin continue to shun me because of the mental health label I was given in 1968. I used to worry about that. I tried so many times to reach out to them over the years. Then I realized that I am better off without such unloving people.

    Like you, Wendy, I swim against the currents of my labels. In 1997, when I was 44 years old, I went to nursing school. To my happy surprise, I was elected class president. I graduated from nursing school with perfect grades. Then I wrote and published a novel under a different pen name. And then I was on the Oprah Winfrey show, featured in one of her inspirational Remembering Your Spirit segments.

    Ha, so much for labels!

    Yesterday I saw a surgeon and he confirmed what I had suspected, that a growth on my face is cancer. I am now scheduled to have surgery in the hospital on December 6.

    I do not like the cancer label at all. But I am going to find my own path through this, with the help of God.

    Thank you for your encouraging posts, Wendy. My precious aunt has dementia. Reading your posts gives me hope that she is still my Aunt Bubbly inside, even if she cannot express herself now in words.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very powerful and well put. I,like many others, can fully empathise with what you say. As a retired teacher may I add how important I always thought it to show pupils that we are all different, no one is “better” and we should all celebrate individual success and try to help others achieve in whatever way possible. We all have our own path to travel in what ever way we feel happy with.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Amazing post, Wendy. My friend, who has dementia, is still the same woman she has always been, just a bit different! Labels can be heartbreaking. You’re an inspiration. X

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Wendy, I think what you are describing relates to being open or close minded. Closed minded people just apply what they think they already know, rather than consider the possibility that they don’t have all the answers or know the whole story or back round of a person. I love the saying, ” Don’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.” or something like that. 🙂 I loved your book. Thank you for inspiring me not to worry about any future dementia. You show readers all that CAN be done, not what cannot. Happy Thanksgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Wendy. I have brought my children (and childminded children) up to feel valued for who they are, not what they do. Could I ask your permission to copy your text, to display in the staff room at the hospital I work, to remind all staff about “labels” and the people we care for and work with?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You’re not odd, Wendy – you shine. Most things don’t cast a light – the ‘normal’ things – they reflect the light of those which do.

    Carry on being the bright star, the lightbulb… you make it possible for the rest of us to see. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Today it’s still December 1 in California. I’ve been thinking about your posts and ideas a lot. Your comments come from a thoughtful person who has always thought for herself. And there is also a lot of wisdom in what you say. In many indigenous cultures I believe you would be considered an elder. In addition I would also say that you have earned the honor of being referred to as a healer. These are the “labels” that show you the appropriate respect. Sincerely, Barbara

    Liked by 1 person

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