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Defining Identity & Self-Worth: The American Dream

I, too, dream of a day when I will be judged by the content of my character, rather than by the labels I carry.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. described his American dream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials & tribulations. You have been the veterans of CREATIVE SUFFERING.

Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back [home] knowing that somehow this situation can & will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties & frustrations of the moment, I still have a DREAM. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up & live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these TRUTHS to be self-evident: that all men are created EQUAL.”

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I can hear his voice ring out with conviction, chills trickling down my spine as inspiration nestles in.

Do I dare speak up about the injustice happening all around that so many people are completely unaware of? Dare I hope to live in a nation better than this? Dare I challenge America to do better, to be better?

Yes, for it is far less terrifying that daring to continue suffering in silence.

Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed his American dream decades ago, & it was transformational for thousands of people. His memory will live on forever.

I take great inspiration from this, for I, too, have a dream.

Although my struggle is not being judged by the colour of my skin, massive judgment is still hurled at me from all directions on a regular basis, & it has for over ten years, dramatically damaging every aspect of my life.

I am judged by my appearances, from the superficial beauty of my body to the general success (or lackthereof) I have within society’s constructs.

Far too frequently do I hear remarks such as, “You’re too beautiful to be so sad,” “Come on now, pretty girls don’t cry,” & “But you’re so beautiful; obviously life can’t be that bad.”

To insinuate that I am incapable of feeling the average spectrum of emotions that I am not allowed to express my feelings, that I am not permitted to be human & flawed & struggling simply because of my appearances is absolutely absurd.

To assume my life is wonderful, easy, blissful, & free of pain & troubles is insulting because, not only are assumptions being made without bothering to get to know the real me, but all of my pain & experiences are invalidated when those things are implied or directly said to or about me.

On top of that, it is assumed that because I am aesthetically pleasing to many people, I automatically have great friends & no problem finding a wonderful romance. This couldn’t be more inaccurate, for my physical beauty has led to more heartache than anything else. People often assume that a pretty girl like me will be shallow & therefore require merely the mirage of a deep love, rather than an actual true love.

I have been approached as “easy,” as a desirable yet worthless object, repeatedly by literally hundreds of people over the past decade. When I seek more & attempt true intimacy, even on a friendship level, I am, more often than not, scoffed, ridiculed, insulted in the deepest ways, & thrown aside without a second thought, abandoned for some other pretty human or pleasure-seeking habit.

I dream of a day where my beauty will not be held against me; where I can be proud of who I am & no longer live in fear of society & its humans; where people innately know that we’re all in this crazy journey of life together so we may as well be kind to one another; where I can be respected for who I am rather than lusted after for how I appear.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I, too, dream of a day when I will be judged by the content of my character, rather than by the labels I carry.

Aside from a very short list of positive labels I’ve heard over the years, the list of negative, harmful labels I’ve been given by society—friends & family included—could fill a thick book, easily.

I am a “lunatic” because I view the world & experience life & perceive things differently than most, & people would rather think of a simple label than take the time & energy to try & understand me.

I am a “slut” because I am confident in my own skin.

I am “crazy” because I hear voices inside my head. It makes others uncomfortable, &, to soothe their own fears about who I am, they slap a label on me, simplifying the issue for their own comfort.

I am a “heathen” because I cling to unpopular beliefs, & people would rather judge & condemn me for their own comfort & peace of mind than take the time & have the humanity to respect my conviction & insights.

I am “self-absorbed” because I refuse to be a doormat for others & because I intentionally focusing on loving, nurturing, & preserving my soul, & the vast majority of mankind doesn’t understand the significance & power of this.

I am “lazy” because I can’t hold a normal job & people don’t understand why.

I am “weird” because my daily habits are different & “strange” compared to the vast majority of society.

I am a “bitch” because I stand up for myself & shamelessly call people out when they’re in the wrong. Such genuine honesty & forthright bluntness is uncommon & can easily trigger others. 

I am “easy” because I am extravagantly social at times. I try to choose kindness over everything, which is often mistaken for flirting, which turns to reckless promiscuity when bored people start spreading rumours.

I am a “drama queen” because I express myself on a regular basis, which most people don’t feel they have the right to do & grow upset when witnessing it.

I am a “leech” because I humbly accept help when I need it, which has been the majority of the past three years, unfortunately.

These labels have repeatedly been slapped onto my identity for twelve excruciatingly long years.

In the past, I have not always coped well with such judgment. However,  I am learning to approach this struggle in a more effective & healthy manner.

It helps to unravel the underlying truth behind the words: Why do people assume these things about me?

For one thing, they only see one small, tiny portion of my life, &, automatically, judgments are formed that directly relate with their own personal insecurities.

Perhaps it’s a deeply seated fear of theirs to be different, causing them to feel alone, misunderstood, unrelatable, & even weak & pathetic.

Perhaps they were raised to be a certain way & anything different from that is “wrong” or “bad.” This can lead to a variety of judgments regarding the self & others.

Perhaps they don’t feel they have the right to question their beliefs, priorities, & values. Perhaps they don’t feel the right to express who they truly are, so seeing someone do so is upsetting. Perhaps they are jealous, or angry, or hurt, or scared, or simply confused.

Once I realized this… &, not only knew it in my head logically but also in my heart with a peaceful yet fierce conviction… I was slowly able to begin removing those dozens of inaccurate labels & harsh, condemning judgments.

Now, they are just words.

Empty, hollow words.

Words like any other words in our language.

They cannot negatively affect my life because I refuse to continue giving these labels, those words, the opinion of people who don’t truly know my heart, any power anymore.

As I learned in my tenth grade English class, Eleanor Roosevelt once said that, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I refuse to give them consent any longer.

It is now time to take back all personal power.

I dream of an America where someone with a rough past, a mental illness, & living on disability can link arms with someone who has a privileged & successful life on all fronts, & there will be not hatred or judgement or discomfort. Only peace & love & unity & mutual respect. 

I dream of a nation where the sense of community, love, & support is stronger than any feelings of fear, resentment, or oppression; where the power of love overcomes all differences & judgments lingering within society.

I dream of an America where I can be proud to be myself, who I truly am, because society not only accepts it but encourages it!, rather than challenging, insulting, & threatening it; where the sense of self is something taught during childhood education & every human being understands their right to their own personal power within society, not held back by limitations or perpetuated misconceptions leading to judgment & condemnation.

I dream of a nation where the pain of an invisible illness is not invalidated & disregarded simply because it is misunderstood; where I could seek & receive effective help for a medical condition such as DID; where I can feel like I am part of a society despite my differences, that I am included in the conversations that matter despite having a drastically different perception than everyone around me.

I dream of an America that provides opportunities to ALL, even those who are mentally ill & disabled such as myself; that extends a helping hand to everyone in need, not just the people with physical wounds to help heal; that includes the ostracized souls in their celebrations of life & their conversations about pain.

I dream of a nation who knows who I am & is proud  to have me there with them.

I have a severe, chronic, debilitating, incurable mental illness.

I have dissociative identity disorder.

But that does not define who I truly am.

How I treat people defines me.

How I love those around me, including myself, defines me.

My level of unflinching integrity… Genuine authenticity… Compassionate kindness… Bold faith… Unconditional love for every living thing on earth, from the largest creature to the smallest seed… Creative intelligence to use the resources I have not only to survive & help myself, but to thrive & help others as well… Light within my soul to cast hope, beauty, & truth upon even the darkest of moments…

These qualities are what define me, & I refuse to succumb to any sort of label other than the beautiful ones I know I already possess within my soul, for I refuse to let go of my American dream.

“I have a dream today!”


Photo Credit: Lauren Uhlendorf with Lauren Emily Design & Photography

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