Toward a new meaning of ‘mental disorder’

I am currently enrolled in 3 psychology courses, one of them called “Abnormal Psychology”. I am interested in exploring the meaning of terminology we use to talk about mental illness, because of the fact that it is so stigmatized. I invite you to read the following, in which I help liberate the term ‘mental disorder’ beyond its current connotations and automatic stigmatizing tone.

Mental disorder.

What does disorder mean? dictionary says “a state of confusion”.

So when we refer to people with a ‘mental disorder’, we instead could say that they are in a state of mental confusion. Perhaps this confusion is resulting in lots of sadness, social anxiety, extreme fear, hearing voices, or seeing things that are not there. We have names of ‘disorders’ associated with these behaviors.

Lets expand our imagination and curiosity to see this as a temporary state of confusion, where things are not quite functioning in an a-b-c, 1-2-3 manner. The fact that so many people experience ‘mental illness’, means that it is our society’s new normal state, and we are called on collectively to see our own experience as parallel with that of others.

Indeed, how can there be any growth or development, without temporary states of mental confusion? It is our human nature and that of our consciousness, to contemplate the depth and extent of our world, and when we find our world turned completely upside down, it is completely disorienting, confusing, painful beyond description, and at times, unbearable to us, because we are given not just brains and a mind capable of rational thought, but a heart of compassion and love, and when our heart is broken by grief and sadness, we are thrown into confusion.

We become confused about who we are, what we are doing here, why devastating things happen. The chaos and violence which manifested the world is momentarily revealed to us, and we no longer know what home is, what comfort is, we are ripped from ourselves, tears well in our eyes and uncontrollable sobbing shakes our tender human body.

This is what confusion is.

But we also know what it is to slowly emerge from this destruction, from this heartbreak, heart-shatter. We know it, when from the ashes and rubble that surrounds, we know also the first glimmer of hope, the first inkling of love, the capability to crack a tiny smile, the warm gentle touch of an arm around our shoulder. There has never been a human life without confusion, and there has never been growth and evolution of heart and spirit, without entering the depths of utter loss, devastation, grief, sorrow, despair. The time spent in this place is immeasurable, but it is our responsibility, if we have been there, and if we emerge, it is our basic responsibility to be sensitive and aware when another enters this profound, all encompassing confusion. We must be there to let them know they are not alone. There is no judging. There is no ‘acceptable time period’ definable for how long it might take, because the journey itself is where its at. Its not about fast recovery, easy recovery. It is about embracing the complexity of the human experience, with patience, love, and an understanding from personal experience. This is compassion, this is empathy.

Next time you hear someone talk about ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental disorder’, remember what disorder means, it means things are out of order, and that things are, for now, in a state of confusion. But confusion is where things get truly interesting.


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