Disease, Disorder, Mayhem

For some reason, I feel there should be a more emphatic distinction in casual speech and writing between the terms “illness,” “disease,” and “disorder.” Example: kleptomania is correctly considered a disorder. My good friend Wikipedia explains the terminology differences, informing readers that a disorder is “a functional abnormality or disturbance” whereas diseases are “clinically evident” and result from the presence of pathogenic microbial agents.”

Since, at the moment, my brain isn’t functioning at normal capacity, I’m not entirely sure about those pathogenic microbial agents, but it sounds like Wikipedia claims diseases tend to have specific (though they may be unknown) physical causes, and disorders, well…maybe those are more vague. Some have known genetic causes and some just sort of happen. Kleptomania isn’t something you can test for, like meningitis.

You really wonder where I’m going with this, don’t you?

Recently I’ve heard a couple people misuse terms (in my opinion). One person spoke of hoping to someday find a cure for diseases like┬átrichotillomania. I felt this was a ridiculous statement, because┬átrichotillomania is an “impulse control disorder” similar to kleptomania; in no way does it constitute a disease. To me, calling something a disease makes it sound like there ought to be clear ways of diagnosing and (hopefully) treating the problem – although, to be fair, many diseases are ones for which we still have no treatment.

Anyway, impulse control disorders, anxiety disorders, and so on are not things that we can just prescribe a two-week dose of medication for and then expect them to be gone. Disorders must be managed. It’s vastly unfortunate that we don’t know what else to do with them, but that’s how life is right now. People who have the extremely difficult burden of dealing with depression and anxiety have probably learned that there’s no easy fix. No vaccine that can prevent you from catching it. No IV that would make the problem go away. I repeat: there is no cure.

Alright, on to the second person. In church yesterday we had testimony meeting (ah, my favorite), and I thought it would be awfully short and pleasant because there were so many people visiting that it took ages to get the sacrament to everyone. By the time the testimonies started we only had 15 minutes left in the meeting. But, I forgot about people who manage to take up 8 minutes on their own. Eight crazy minutes.

This woman, who I am absolutely positive is an extremely nice woman, spoke to us about her fibromyalgia and what a terrible disease it is – which, in and of itself is alright (except that she called it a disease), but then she quickly turned to telling us how sad and lonely she feels when people avoid her because they know she has fibromyalgia and they don’t understand it. All she wants is a friendly hello or someone to come over for a cup of tea.

Quite honestly, what she described – walking down the hall and someone coming her way, then realizing it was her and taking a detour or ducking into a room so they don’t have to talk to her – sounds more like high school. I suppose it’s entirely possible that such things really happen to her, but…my guess is it’s more a personality issue than a “you are diseased” issue. At any rate, she spent the last 4 minutes letting us know that we need to learn more about fibromyalgia so we can understand her intense suffering. Then we can be friends.

(I thought of the disease/disorder thing not only because she kept calling it a disease but because apparently there is some controversy about whether fibromyalgia is actually a psychosomatic disorder – which, given the 8 minutes I saw of this woman, might be understandable.)

So…that was my rambling, and I’m sorry it wasn’t very interesting. If any of you actually made it to the end, I’m sincerely impressed.