“The words ‘I am’ are potent words; be careful what you hitch them to. The thing you’re claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you.” A.L. Kitselman

This idea was on my mind the day before I found this quote.  Since I’d finally reset my Twitter password to something I could remember, I viewed my long-neglected profile.  Rather than a quick, descriptive bio line, I’d basically stated (in 160 characters or less), that I hold three jobs, but painting is my passion, and that I love my family and the place I live.

In search of ideas for a catchy bio format, I prowled some random peoples’ tag lines. Although most were positive, uplifting and funny, a few people used labels that debilitated rather than affirmed the positive in them.  Their bio tags contained, “I have PTSD,” “CFS,” or “FMS”-which I had to look up to find that it means “Fibromyalgia,” something I’ve dealt with for over 15 years, but would never use as a term to describe myself!  Owning it in such a way would mean it’s an integral part of my existence- part of who I am.  It’s not.

Labels help us identify with and relate to others, and as an artist, I look for relationships constantly in: colors, spaces, shapes, textures, values, etc.  I look for them & point them out in people, too.  My 17-year-old daughter hates it when I introduce her as an artist, writer, photographer or life-drawing model.  I believe I’m referring to her in an uplifting way, but she finds these “designations” as restricting to her character as if I’d introduced her as neurotic, eccentric, or egomaniacal.  While my “intro tags” help others relate to her, they obstruct my daughter’s freedom of identity.

Although I’d share common understanding with someone who tags herself as “Artist Mom with FMS who’s Suffered a Stillbirth,” I choose not to classify myself as a “sufferer.”  We all suffer.  It’s universal.  While connecting with others who relate is extremely helpful, there’s danger in letting our adversity be our identity.  When I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a wise woman told me, “You can go to the support groups, but they just focus on it.”  I believe this helped me relegate this condition (and other tribulations) to something that I deal with rather than something that controls or owns me.  The Apostle Paul spoke of a “thorn in the flesh,” but I’m fairly certain he would not use it specifically to describe himself in 160 characters or less (other than to call himself a sinner- another affliction I can relate to).

In the end, describing yourself is a balance between identifying what you want to increase and disempowering what might debilitate or limit you.  I choose not to let my afflictions describe me: that I’m at times an “emotionally-distant individual,” (thinking of formulas for colors I see around me or detecting spatial relationships while my family needs me to answer a question or respond), who’s “been on anti-depressants for 14 years for what I now know is called FMS,” and is “often a neglectful friend and spouse.”  Not wanting to be the victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I type something like:

“Artistic mom, wife, paraprofessional; loves: coffee, family, art, books & humanities; seeks: studio time, skills and peace that passeth understanding.” (152 characters)