Mind your Language

Gabrielle reading a book

In her comment, my friend S wrote :"The word 'depression' is far too readily used so people think they know how you feel because they broke a nail last week or something!". I could not agree with her more. Language is powerful: it shapes our perception and therefore changes our reality.It is time for something to change in the medical language department.

'Clinical depression' is not feeling fed-up, or feeling a bit up and down - that's life and everybody feels that way from time to time, some more than others. 'Clinical depression' dramatically impacts your ability to function. Unfortunately, sticking 'clinical' in front of 'depression' doesn't do anything to communicate to the general public the difference between being depressed in the casual sense, the one we all experience as part of life, and the medical sense, the one some of us are unfortunate enough to know intimately.

In this regard I am in a better position than most because, once you've had ECT, people treat you seriously. Even the most moronic idiots find it difficult totrivialisewhat is still generally known as 'electro-shock treatment'. The poor depressed sods who are on medication are not so lucky.

This is why clinically depressed people are told such stupid things as 'pull yourself together', 'cheer up', 'pull your socks up', etc. When people have told me this in the past, I have answered with these questions:

  • How do you pull yourself together when your self has totally disappeared, please tell me?
  • How do you cheer up when dimensions and direction have evaporated and you are left in nowhere land no longer able to tell your backside from a hole in the ground?
  • How do you pull your socks up when you have no feet left?

This usually shut them up :0)

So this is what I propose:

  • Unipolar Syndrome- to replace 'clinical depression'. Unipolar Syndrome is that deep gravitational black hole that engulfs you totally, and that:
    • drains you of all your energy; in fact, it drains you of life itself
    • keeps you locked in torment and trapped in the pit-of-despair
    • shatters your self-confidence and injects you with chronic self-doubt
    • scrambles your brain and attacks your body
    • robs you of light, love and laughter.
  • Bipolar Syndrome- to replace 'manic depression' or 'bipolar disorder'. Bipolar Syndrome is the same as Unipolar Syndrome, except that the black hole is not fixed in space and behaves like an intergalactic helter-skelter. It's not better or worse than Unipolar Syndrome - it's just different. As well as experiencing the pit-of-despair, you also experience the furnace-of-agitation. Imagine that each one of your body's cells has a little metal cage of its own, and that all those cells suddenly decide to rattler their little cages all at once: that's what agitation feels like. I personally experience it as highly dangerous and I hate it.
  • Brain Dysfunction- to replaceMood Disorder- Bipolar Syndrome is medically labelled a 'mood disorder' . Let me have a go at 'mood' first.

'Mood', like 'depression', is far too commonly used and is therefore inappropriate to communicate a medical condition, even if I am well aware that bipolar is linked to the area of the brain that controls our moods. A bad mood, a fowl mood, a funny mood, a funky mood, a shitty mood, etc - we all know these. But there is 'mood' and there is 'mood'. To call Bipolar Syndrome a 'mood disorder' is like calling Alzheimer's a memory impairment. It just doesn't cut it.

I would suggest that there are two layers of mood: the top layer that can be controlled and the bottom layer that cannot. I am very good at controlling/managing my top layer mood. One of the great advantages of ECT is precisely that it has given me back control on that top layer and I can now choose how I feel about how I feel - if you get my meaning. I do admit that keeping in a positive mood when your body and your brain feel dreadful is very challenging but, even at this stage of my recovery, I do succeed most of the time. I could never have been a professional Life Coach without that capacity and the skills required to develop it. I can control how I feel about 'it' - but I cannot control 'it'. 'It' is what my brain/body do and how they choose to function at any one time. 'It' is the bottom layer. The bottom layer is where the illness lives.

'Disorder' does a good job of capturing the internaldisorganisationthat takes over your brain/body and of communicating the fact that something is not working properly. However, it does nothing to grasp and communicate the pain that is present in bipolar. Bipolar Syndrome hurts - physically. People say "it's all in your mind" - of course it is: don't all pain signals originate in the brain? This is why I have suggested 'syndrome' rather than 'disorder'.

So let's call this what it is: a Brain Dysfunction - not the manifestation of some moody pain in the arse!

Right. I'll get off my language high horse now and I'll go and have a rest. All this linguistic extrapolation has left me feeling a bit Knackered :0)

What causes Bipolar Syndrome?

For those who want to know a bit more about the medical answer to this question, here is a useful extract:

  "We don't really know, though we do know that genes predispose people to the illness, and that stress can trigger an episode.   One possibility is there is an overabundance of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate in the synapse (the space between two neurons) due to cortisol, which is secreted as part of the "flight or fight" reaction to stress. The glia - the "other" brain cell - is thought to clear excess glutamate from the synapse, but bipolar patients have a shortage of glia.   Glutamate in turn allows calcium to flow through an ion channel penetrating the cell membrane and into the neuron and activates calcium-dependent enzymes inside.

  There are other ion channels that may be overstimulated in response to various neurotransmitters. In addition, researchers are also looking at the neurotransmitter dopamine, with is involved in pleasure and reward.   There is also some evidence that vitamin or mineral deficiencies may play a role.   In all likelihood, several processes are occurring at once, and not necessarily the same ones individual to individual."

  So, because it appears to be so complex and to involve so many different brain functions, you might as well call it Brain Dysfunction!


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