Why It’s Time To Drop The Disorder

Recently, I’ve been rather taken with the word thingy (stop sniggering at the back).  Everyone must agree that it’s a wonderful word; a catch-all for all those things in life whose proper names are either unknown to us or whose pronunciation is clumsy.

Some of my friends use a thingy to change the channel on their TV, though personally I use a doofah and others I know use an oojamaflip

In fact, our lives are joyously full of thingys (or should that be thingies?) It’s the corrugated cardboard sleeve on your takeaway coffee cup (it’s actually called a zarf), the plastic tip on the end of a shoelace (or, to give it its proper name, aglet), the indented area between the bottom of your nose and your top lip (philtrum), the stringy bits you get when you peel a banana (phloem bundles) and a million and one other things that we need to describe but for which we don’t have words.

Thingydoofah, whatjamacallit, thingymabobby, thingamajiggy, whatsit, doo-dah, doohickey, dooflicky, jimjangle …words that make up a much-loved lexicon of everyday ignorance.

And now we can add another one to the list.

Disorder.

In previous posts I’ve talked about the fact no-one is discussing the ‘why’ of mental health. We’ve become very adept at working out what challenges an individual might be facing, but there’s very little debate around what’s led that individual to the point where a mental health issue has presented itself in an obvious way.

That, in turn, has left the UK facing a mental health crisis of monumental proportions; and in large part of this is because the debate isn’t starting early enough to ensure appropriate intervention happens before someone’s emotional wellbeing deteriorates into something more obviously acute.

Mental health is complex and the budgeting and resourcing challenges that dictate care provision are acute, as a recent BBC report into locked rehabilitation wards in mental health care facilities shows all too clearly.

Our society is obsessed with labels. For many people – and particularly for those within medical diagnostics – labels are the convenient panacea for lack of knowledge. A quick canter through Wikipedia under the search phrase ‘list of mental disorders’ brings up a roll-call of no fewer than 72 recognised conditions that have been given this label. And not one of them satisfactorily defines the condition it describes.

While I’d be the first to agree that Wiki is hardly an unarguable source of totally reliable knowledge, the example is telling.

Someone presents with a condition we haven’t seen before and so we stick a tag on it.    

If a person fears that somewhere in the world, somehow a duck is watching them, the likely response of the medical community would be to invent Watching Duck Disorder rather than explore the root cause of the phobia or anxiety (and by the way, the fear of a duck watching you is actually called anatidaephobia and, apart from being one of the most unusual phobias ever, was made famous in a 1988 cartoon by Far Side creator Gary Larson – this article is nothing if not educational).  

In my experience, many mental health issues are invariably due to trauma or lifestyle – and, often, both. But trauma plays a huge role in shaping our future mental wellbeing and rather than rushing to put a ‘disorder’ label on what we don’t yet understand, it’s imperative that we begin the process of understanding trauma itself.

Many manifestations of apparent mental health issues I see are actually subconscious coping mechanisms to deal with a traumatic event in the past. Behavioural tics like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive checking are our busy subconscious mind’s way of keeping us safe. The subconscious doesn’t operate on linear time, so if the trauma hasn’t been processed properly the subconscious will continue to perpetuate these coping strategies long after the trauma has ended in an attempt to keep the individual ‘safe’. 

And the domino effect of that can be catastrophic. If you’ve experienced trauma and adversity as a child or teenager, you’re less likely to know how to self-care and put yourself first. In turn, you’re more likely to live a lifestyle that does not support you emotionally. Typically, if you’ve suffered childhood trauma, you’re more likely to try to please people, say yes when you should be saying no, overwork, over-indulge and overspend and indulge in addictive substances and behaviours. 

And you do these things to avoid the feelings lodged in the subconscious associated with the original trauma.

Yet despite the complexity of what lies behind the symptoms that eventually manifest themselves, the response of the medical community is often to simply slap a disorder label on it.

The reality is that calling something a disorder is both limiting and outdated. It chains the individual to a label for life, implying that somehow that person is forever broken and fundamentally faulty when in fact nothing is further from the truth.

I don’t believe the symptoms that we’re so blithely happy to stick in a box marked disorder always constitute an illness, they are the emotional and sometimes physical projection of an experience.  

Yet we persist in talking of things like OCD and depression as permanent fixtures in a person’s life. Only recently I saw a mental health charity advert which proclaimed My OCD is as much a part of me as my blue eyes and blonde hair. It doesn’t have to be. 

I’m concerned by that. I worry that a lot of advertising around mental health is reinforcing the myth that what you might be dealing with is something to be permanently endured, that the correct response is to simply embrace it as part of who you are.

We’ve come a long way in recognising and understanding the challenges that mental health can bring. It would be a tragedy if, having come so far, our final destination turns out only to be resigned acceptance.

If we can acknowledge and treat with respect whatever past trauma or adversity is fuelling the symptoms, many of the conscious manifestations of the trauma – for example, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and chronic stress – can lift and, in many instances, clear up completely.    

At the very least the volume can be turned down.

In my 15 years as a Hypnotherapist working with the disorders that I am qualified to treat – social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, derealisation disorder, depersonalisation disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, sleep disorders, eating disorders, acute stress disorder, body dysmorphia disorder, major depressive disorder, nightmare disorder and phobic disorder – I’m yet to work with one that cannot be traced back to a traumatic experience or series of adverse life events that have triggered coping behaviour.   

The dictionary definition of disorder is ‘a state of confusion’. People with mental health challenges aren’t necessarily confused. In fact, in most cases, a person dealing with a mental health issue couldn’t be more aware of their condition and how it affects them.

We apply the label disorder when what we’re actually trying to define or describe is a response

Mental health awareness has improved greatly and that’s a wonderful step in the right direction. But what we now need is awareness of trauma and some of the causes of trauma, such as abuse, discrimination, poverty and inequality.

It’s vital that we update the way we think about mental health, stop labelling people with disorders and start really looking at the why so that people actually have a fighting chance of getting well rather than spending their lives managing a label.

Because in the end, what sort of a life is that?    

As a successful hypnotherapist, I’ve learned the importance and power of uncovering what has happened to you, because the past is always the key that unlocks the present and the behaviours you’re presenting now are just a breadcrumb trail to a bigger mystery.

If we can change the way we think about trauma, that may just prove to be the chink of light in the dark tunnel that is the UK’s current approach to mental health care – and I’m all for that. 

Thingy may be a harmless substitute for our ignorance of the ordinary, but the same can’t be said for disorder


Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Perhaps one you’ve never asked yourself before. Maybe you’ve never felt you’ve needed to. After all, you might not be displaying any obvious sign that your emotional wellbeing is at risk and perhaps your lifestyle is a predictable drumbeat punctuated with an occasional burst of high octane.

In other words, you’re just … normal. Right? Okay. Maybe you are. Maybe you’re not. Only you know for sure. Or maybe, just maybe … you don’t.

Now I’ve put the question out there, indulge me and take a few minutes to really think about your answer.

And while you’re doing that, let me explain why for a great many people – maybe even for you – their lifestyle is anything but normal and why it’s creating an unnecessary risk.

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How ‘Therapied’ Is Your Hypnotherapist?

Medical hypnotherapy

In the grand scheme of things, you know something might have gone wrong when you’re heating something up in a microwave and there’s a sudden loud bang, a shower of sparks and the house is plunged into sudden darkness.

Like most ordinary people, I know what electricity does, but not how it does it. I can change a lightbulb and, if the circumstances are right and there’s a diagram to work from, a plug. When there’s a normal power cut – in other words, the sort that isn’t accompanied by loud noises and sudden fireworks in the kitchen – I also know where to look to see if a fuse has blown (though what to do next would elude me).

But that’s pretty much as far as my expertise goes and you’ll probably agree that when the Fourth of July is going on in the middle of your kitchen, that probably isn’t quite far enough.

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Why Is No-One Talking About The ‘Why’?

Why Is No-One Talking About The 'Why'?

We’ve probably all been in a situation at least once where we’ve been caught up in a debate with someone who has a point of view which is the polar opposite of our own.

Often these conversations revolve around subjects which might be contentious or controversial or simply evoke tension. During the exchange, it’s likely that you’ve spent a fair amount of time laying out a logical, well-considered argument with examples to illustrate the message you’re trying to convey.

And when it comes to the other person’s time to respond, they simply regurgitate their own opinion – which, of course, barely offers a nod of recognition to your carefully manicured opinions. 

And in your head you’re screaming: BUT YOU’RE MISSING THE WHOLE POINT!!

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The (Vital) Difference Between Hope & Fantasy

The (Vital) Difference Between Hope & Fantasy

For two words with such distinctly different definitions, the tendency for hope and fantasy to be confused for each other is remarkable. They are, of course, linked – but mistaking one for the other can have toxic outcomes.

We can’t live without hope. That’s why, as the old saw says, it dies last. And given the uncertain and turbulent times in which we currently live, that’s nothing if not reassuring: there are worse ways to live than in the enduring belief that things will ultimately get better.

Fantasy – the imagining of impossible or improbable things – also has its place. As the 19th Century Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin observed, by striving to do the impossible man has always achieved what is possible. Without fantasy to fuel the hopes and dreams of humankind, it’s entirely possible we would still be drawing on the walls of caves.

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The Silent Agony Of Grief

The Silent Agony Of Grief

All of us have, at some time or another, experienced grief. While it’s an emotion we most commonly associate with death, it’s not limited to the loss of a life. We can grieve for friends or family who move far away, for a lost item that had powerful sentimental worth or for an opportunity we should have taken but didn’t.

As children many of us have lost treasured pets or older relatives. And as we get older, death’s footsteps fall closer to our daily lives, claiming friends, parents, siblings and others we cherish.

Grief in all these circumstances is entirely normal. In fact, it’s also entirely healthy. And most of the time it’s transitory, a process with a beginning and an end that we move through on the way to reclaiming emotional equilibrium at some undefined near-future point.

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Hypnotherapy In Later Life

Hypnotherapy In Later Life

There’s a tendency to look at older people and envy them the simplicity of their lives. Unless there are obvious signs of failing physical, mental or financial health, it’s easy to see people in their twilight years as a generation that’s found contentment.

As the rest of us hurtle pell-mell through the frenetic hub of an eat-sleep-work-repeat existence, it’s easy to look on with some degree of jealousy at how the pace of life has slowed for those of a certain vintage.

In our eyes, they have acquired the greatest wealth of all: time. And at the same time, we envy the fact they are unburdened by work or financial worries. It’s easy to tell ourselves that those beyond working age are care-free and happy.

But in many cases, it’s fallacy.

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The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

Life, it seems, has become an endless pursuit of perfection. The perfect partner, the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect face. 

Except, of course, it’s never enough. No matter what we achieve, we keep redefining what we mean by perfection. Yet I’d argue that when we define perfection, we’re instead allowing ourselves to be defined by how we want to be seen by others.

This is certainly true of celebrities. The rock stars, film icons and sporting heroes who occupy the unrelenting attention of the world’s media live in a strange and terrifying alternate reality in which they are presented with an image of themselves and experience the suffocating pressure of trying to live up to it.

A life of celebrity can be almost Orwellian, where the definition of self can become so blurred that the person in the spotlight in turn becomes convinced that the image they see on the news, in the papers and on film is actually who they are or should become.

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Have We Forgotten How To Be Cool?

Have We Forgotten How To Be Cool?

Have we forgotten how to be cool?  And no, I’m not talking about being able to wear a beard, an ear stud and a mandigan all at the same time without appearing to be the unsuspecting victim of some sort of haute couture drive-by shooting.

I’m talking about the ability to hide razor-sharp elbows behind a winning smile and effortless charm and appear sufficiently interested to be engaging, yet aloof enough to not be threatening.

Think Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Cooler King cool.

The reason I’m banging on about this comes hot on the heels of a conversation with a good friend of mine after we’d both been on the receiving end of a particularly brutal hard-sell.  

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The Agony & The Ecstasy Of Ageing

The Agony & The Ecstasy Of Ageing

If he were still around, my Dad would have been in his mid-Seventies now.

The eldest surviving child born at the outbreak of the Second World War into a dirt poor Liverpudlian family.  Four babies died of eight siblings.  My father had the unenviable challenge of being a sensitive lad growing up in harsh times..

He grew up in an extremely volatile environment where deprivation was rife, prospects scant and food scarcer. He learned early that the curse of asthma brought its own blessing with a decent meal on those occasions when he had to be hospitalised and that in good health a life of petty crime could mean the difference between eating or not.

Some would say he was a bad lad. Others, perhaps more kindly, that necessity drove him to live off his wits and take the opportunities that presented themselves, no matter how unpalatable.

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.