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Terminology Fail?

September 23, 2011

Just a quick line.  I haven’t forgotten WunderNutbar.  I’ve just been … elsewhere.  Distracted: from the Latin, distraho, to draw in different direction.  A man must have day job(s)…!

Anyway, here’s a little sumpin’ that got me thinkin’.  It concerns the terminology of mental illness — something you’d expect me to discuss more often than I do.  So be it.  High time to offer a few musings.

Once again, I’m an elections Polling Clerk — this time for Elections Ontario during the Provincial Election.  Elections Ontario has a slightly different training programme compared to Elections Canada.  The Provincial counterpart offers a more thorough briefing on accessibility and disability regulations.

Official standards — rightly so — maintain that one doesn’t refer to “epileptics,” say, or “bipolar people;” rather, it’s people with epilepsy or people with bipolar and so on.  It’s been this way for a while: there’s the Ministry of Citizenship Accessibility Directorate of Ontario’s Word Choices: A Lexicon of Preferred Terms for Disability Issues (updated 2002), and the Government of Canada’s A Way with Words and Images: Suggestions for the Portrayal of People with Disabilities (updated 2006).

Ol' skool.

Awright.  The above is a page from the Elections Ontario 2011 training manual.  It’s from a quiz on how to address folks with disabilies — viz., which answer is the correct one?  Of course it’s the bottom answer, d.

Then why, after taking such pains to outline the proper little periphrastic construction (“with such and such a condition”) do they mess it up with the ol’-skool Adolf Meyer 1950’s vintage term manic depression?  We’re back in the days of the first edition of the DSM (1952), and, uhm, Jimi Hendrix (1967).

And as for frustrating messes, many insist on saying, “I am not bipolar — I am a person who has bipolar, and my condition does not define me.”  Hmmm.  For me, things are a bit different.  Bipolar — or whatever it is that I can be said to have (call it excessive, eccentric idiosyncrasies) — informs, colours, and pretty much does determine on a daily basis what I do and how I do it.  How I think, act, experience and create my world.  I’m pretty hard pressed to separate my “condition” from the rest of me.  Madness is as much a part of my successes as a part of my failures.

So it sure as hell does define me.  What I don’t want is for society’s construction of bipolar to define me.  But that is a discussion for another day.

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