my labels don’t fit

written by alison

As we work our way through life, we get labelled. Some of those labels stick around for a while — sister, daughter, Madisonian — and other labels come and go — student, teenager, wife.

While I’ve been spending a lot of my time in the kitchen preparing food, I’ve had oodles of time to ponder. For a while things haven’t felt right, but I couldn’t figure it out, no matter how much time I spent thinking about it. I blamed my health, the experimental treatments, the ebb and flow of owning a business, but nothing lined up.

Then it hit me. I’m forcing myself to be someone I’m not anymore.

Sometime in early February I took a yoga class where the instructor said “we suffer because we hold on” which I’m sure she learned from some wise old yogi. But that doesn’t matter, what matters is that I heard it from her when I needed to hear it.

I spent weeks letting that knowledge bomb burrow it’s way into my very being. Am I holding on to being someone with chronic pain? Do I cling to these new life routines because it’s what I’m used to now? Did I actually call dibs on headaches?

But I was asking myself the wrong questions.

Instead of focusing on the headaches, cause let’s be clear, it’s really hard not to, I needed to focus on the rest of my life. The parts that needed to change because everything else was changing. The parts that were causing friction as I clung to the routine of it all.

And if I’m being honest, which I have been this whole time, that realization hurt. Big time.

I went to a place that I haven’t been in a long while. I felt like I had lost all direction. I was the definition of a world turned upside down. I was angry, I was scared, and most of all, I was hopeless.

It was worse than someone telling me to give up my favorite sweatshirt — it was like someone telling me that none of my favorite outfits fit anymore and must be donated before I could get new clothes to wear.

Suddenly I found myself not feeling like a vegetarian CrossFit athlete, girlfriend, or people pleasing overachiever.

That’s a lot of emotional weight to drop at once.

Honestly, the first one hurt the most. I have been silently battling my own internal dialog about eating fish for months. I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years and found myself thinking about eating animals again. What kind of monster am I? (Well isn’t that a prime example of negative self talk?)

I sought the support of trusted friends and gave my first round of fish tacos a try well before my new diet started. The next day, Jeff’s fish died. Cue ALL THE VEGETARIAN FEELS. Eventually I recovered and carefully tried different options and preparations.

Even though only a handful of folks knew about this change up until right now, I’ve heard all of the cliche phrases that “supportive” people say to anyone changing from a vegetarian diet to one that includes eating animals. To those people, I say “fuck you!” Label me angry, but it’s not supportive to say “I told you so” in any way, shape or form. So if you are thinking about saying anything to me about this decision other than “how can I help?” do not say it to me.

I’d now consider myself a pescetarian. That new label works for me at this point in my life. Just like the last label, it may not be forever. But I’m learning that it does not define me.

Another label that hurt to let go was the one of CrossFit athlete. It reminded me of when I stopped calling myself a runner, only it brought losing an entire community of people with it. I still go to the box every week and cheer for those that have their own PRs. But with each week that I couldn’t work out, the level of support that I got from the community faded more and more.

I worried this would happen when my best friend (and the reason I dedicated years to the sport) moved away. But it compounded as soon as I wasn’t around regularly. I do think the CrossFit community is amazing, but it is absolutely one forged out of proximity. Out of sight, out of mind I was. I don’t blame anyone, community is a two-way connection.

Speaking of two-way connections, romantic relationships. They are hard as fuck and to say that mine suffered due to this chronic pain would be an understatement. I wasn’t ready to drop the relationship, but I needed to change something. When I stopped thinking of myself as a girlfriend and started thinking of myself as a partner, things changed for the better. It’s still hard work, but this label was the easiest for me to swap out.

The last two are pretty self-explanatory, in my opinion, but not easy. I realized that being a people pleaser was part of the culprit of my never-ending stress. Instead of saying “no” to something because I was in pain or simply needed to rest, I felt obligated to say “yes.” Wrong.

And the same can be said for overachieving. When my to do list is a mile long, but I can barely stand upright, how on earth am I not setting myself up for failure day after day?

Now I take breaks from the computer when the pain is mediocre (versus waiting for catastrophe level) and insist on getting enough sleep instead of insisting on meeting ridiculous deadlines. What I do for a living is not life or death, but taking care of my health is.

After all of that, I realize that being present really is what’s best. Because these labels did fit at one point in my life, and maybe I’ll find them fitting again in the future. But they don’t work for me now, so I’m letting them go.

I’m still keeping my Type A label though. That one fits like a glove.