Defining Your Terms

While I’m not quite as bad as my Grammar-Nazi sister, there are some frustrations that pop up once in a while.  Plus, I seem to be getting reminders in the last few months that using the correct terms — especially with your mental and physical health care personnel — is extremely important.

My frustrations with other people’s misuse of idioms include the following cringe-worthy items:

  • “For intensive purposes” — No, that would be “for all INTENTS AND purposes”
  • “Extract revenge” — “EXACT revenge”
  • “Part and partial” — “part and PARCEL
  • “By in large” — “by AND large”
  • “Case and point” — “case IN point”
  • “Orientate” — “ORIENT” (the noun form — orientation — does NOT get translated into orientate! The correct verb form is ORIENT). The same issue seems to happen with the noun form of conversation — No, the verb form is NOT conversating. It is CONVERSING

But, that’s a bunny trail. The real issue is that too often we seem to be forgetting that just because a descriptive word or phrase makes sense to us, it rarely means the exact thing to someone else.  Remember my discussion on connotation versus denotation? (links to definitions, if you didn’t read the previous post)

I had a recent interaction with someone where I was repeatedly required to ask how they were defining their terms.  Sadly, their idea of “defining their terms” was to repeat the word or phrase with the inclusion of a generalized adjective (such as “very” or “extremely”). This is NOT defining your terms. In fact, it isn’t even communicating.

There are actually many situations in someone’s life that require they ensure they are communicating clearly.  Dealing with mental and physical health professionals is an extremely important example of this.

Let me give you a few samples of what I’ve been reminded recently need to be clearly communicated:

  1. Use of the word “overdose:” Just within the last two months, I realized that I have been taking twice the dose of the medication that I have been prescribed for my anxiety and depression.  Initially, I referred to this as “overdosing” on my medication.  A number of people in my life, including my sister, primary doctor and my psychiatrist, all pointed out that I needed to use a different term. Why? Because the use of the word overdose means something very particular when it comes to medical and psychological situations. I was reminded to use the phrase “over-medicating.”
  2. “Manic” energy: The words manic or mania have very specific meanings for again both medical and psychological professionals.  If you are experiencing a high energy day, that does not necessarily mean you are manic or even hyperactive.  It simply means you have a high energy day, even if it is a higher energy than you had previously experienced.
  3. “Concentration:” This one is more that most of the assessment scales for physical and mental health professionals use the word “concentration” to describe a specific type of paying attention to the task at hand.  The problem is, I can “concentrate” (but only as I define it, not as how a professional would define it).

    The reality is that I often lose time, particularly if I am working on something that requires evaluative thinking, step by step logic  or the process of creative expression (such as writing these blogs or working on my art).  Today was a perfect example of this.  I fully intended to be in bed no later than 2 a.m. last night.  As I am writing this, it is 7:13 a.m.  I obviously did not make it to bed as intended. Earlier yesterday, I sat down at approximately 5p.m., then looked at the time — it was 7:30p.m. and I had thought I had been at what I was doing for at least four hours.

    So “losing time” goes both ways — it both accelerates and decelerates depending on each specific task.

    Discussing this with my sister, she would describe it not as “concentration” but as “dissociation.” In psychology, dissociation is not automatically a state of mental illness. Mild dissociation is essentially what I am doing when I lose myself in a task. I’m simply separate from objective reality. It would become an issue if I started randomly or uncontrollably dissociating.

    One of the reasons I say it is not a problem at this point is that during my marriage I lived in a constant state of hypervigilance. The few times I was able to get immersed into things, he enjoyed making me jump.

Since the communication in my relationship (and some of the other relationships, if I’m going to be honest) was so poor, I have less willingness to put up with someone with poor communication skills.  There’s a part of me — the part that seems to have still not gotten the celestial clue brick — that says, “he just doesn’t know any better” or “maybe his childhood was dysfunctional.” The reality is that most families are dysfunctional in some ways. Many families have poor boundaries, poor communication, poor self-awareness.  But, at some point, you have got to acknowledge that you are an adult and that you are responsible for how you interact with the world.

Maybe that sounds funny given the kinds of posts I’ve made. If it does, I’m sorry you think that way.  One of the main reasons for why I write this blog is to try to record the flashes of insight into myself, to record the epiphanies and breakthroughs.  The reality is, over the years I probably have had some of those same insights and same epiphanies.  But I didn’t retain the knowledge or understanding.  Or worse, I tried to rewind my life and my thinking back to the place it was before the insight.  I had that same set of habits with the breakthroughs I’ve had in the last few weeks. It’s why it was so hard to write the Epiphanies of Shame post. That habit of misery was so ingrained in me that I could figuratively watch myself trying to rewind it, to cover it as if I was a pet cat —  not realizing it was the same futility as that pet cat trying to cover its feces on linoleum.

I have, I am, and I will continue to find those parts of me that are invested in that miserable view of life. The parts of me that expect the worst to happen to the extent that I sometimes cause a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If I want my life to be better than it has been, then I have to dig deep and deal with those wounds, finally let them heal instead of poking them with a stick to remind me that it hurts. It’s my life and my choice to take the path to something better, even if that means I have to leave some things behind.

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