Rejecting Labels with NVLD, by Kristen

By July 17, 2023 NVLD Bloggers

One way in which I practice discourse analysis (as part of the research I conduct as a program director and evaluator) is through reading blogs. I can usually pick apart deeper messages within the author’s words, and get a better sense of who they are as a person. The vast, vast majority are cisgendered, heterosexual women, and the overwhelming majority of them suffer from crippling anxiety, of which I feel nothing but empathy for. No one should feel constant fear over their identity, but many do.

Reading an old team mate’s blog, I was struck by their discussion on labels, and how much they adored them. They loved the labels of the sport that they participated in, of the cisgendered role in society they took, and, for all intents and purposes, the title of power that they received by following the rules of society. The labels are not so much descriptions, as they are rewards in a heavily gendered, class-oriented, racist society that is modern America.

Anxiety does very well with labels, but NVLD does not. NVLD asks ‘Why?’ and then does not understand the social cues expected of a label. Throughout my childhood, other kids often labeled themselves and others through the different sports that they played and activities that they took part in. Having NVLD meant that I–with my poor motor skills, uncoordinated body, and inability to function socially–would, and did, struggle with team sports. Throw in some hypoplasia and poor lung function, and bam! I could not be labeled as any form of athlete, even though I am almost six feet tall and have cardiovascular endurance like a Soviet-era biathlete.

I tried jazz and ballet, but I was told I wasn’t a dancer. In fact, if I mentioned I had been a dancer, I would get nagged and shouted by both peers and adults at for even considering myself a dancer.* Not coordinated or thin enough. So I rejected that label. Tried basketball–same deal, not coordinated enough. Volleyball? I was tall and great at it, but the coach put me on the B team, as her daughter’s friends playing the sport with her friends was more important than winning. Should’ve been more socially active and aware, but NVLD is going to have its way. Any time I tried giving myself those labels, I’d be barked down by peers, friends, and loved ones–trying something for a year or two does not earn you the right of that label.

Once I arrived at University of Oregon, I threw out any notions of labels, outside of the student, which I was. Oregon was a place that eschewed labels anyway–it’s a hippie university after all. You were a human, deserving of all titles that you wanted to be. Berkeley, which I transferred to briefly, was also the same. It was about you, and yourself, and all the things you could be.

NVLD loves this mindset, because the exhaustion of social interaction (“Am I the right label? The right type of person?”) is promptly tossed out. I flourished so much in undergrad, so much so, that one of the driving forces to go to graduate school was to enmesh myself in that environment once more. A Ph.D program is infinitely different than undergrad, to say nothing of the vast difference of a major urban research university to a college town campus, but the label challenge was also gone. You were a Ph.D, whether you liked it or not, and your specialities were all over the place in my field (Education).

I’ve earned a bit of notoriety in my specialization as a jack-of-all-trades, an ungovernable sellsword that conducts qualitative research and writes with anyone and anything. I don’t view myself as a certain scholar, and even though I’ve stayed quite active (I can still fit into my middle school uniform!), I don’t view myself as a cyclist or a swimmer, though people ask if I am.

I do, however, consider myself a learning disabled person, because that label is the reason why the rest fall by the wayside.

*= The neighborhood I grew up in was not a friendly environment. I’ve accepted that fact, and feel sympathy for the hurt individuals that were so mean to a child.


Kristen is a Program Director and Writer based in Illinois and was diagnosed with NVLD at 7-years-old. She is loves spending time with her daughters, hiking, and knitting and is always trying to convince her husband that she needs more custom art from “The Expanse.” in her office. She is also a Project Social Ambassador for The NVLD Project.

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