MAKING MY PEACE … with disease, disorder, and other dis words


Making My Peace … with disease, disorder, and other dis words


I’m not fond of ‘dis’ words – they make people tense and anxious, or angry and resentful. I’m talking about disease, disorder, disinterest, discontent, disagreeable, disabled, disappointed, dissatisfied, dishonest, disadvantaged, disliked, disqualified, disconnected …

‘Dis’ words suggest something bad, something negative. Hearing a ‘dis’ word in a sentence, especially from someone in authority – parent, teacher, doctor, psychologist, police officer – instantly makes the heart begin to sink, the breath to hyperventilate, and the brain to overthink. You hear the phrase – this is what’s wrong with you. Or you think – what is wrong with me?

I think no one should use a ‘dis’ word without explaining the context and meaning. Just because the words are commonly used in the wellbeing sphere, it doesn’t mean that they are fully understood. What a clinician means by ‘disorder’ may be miscommunicated or misunderstood by others, because, generally, people don’t hear the full sentence – they fixate on the ‘dis’ word. Clarification and common understandings are needed.

What do ‘dis’ words mean?

‘Dis’ actually means ‘away from the norm’ without specifying the point at which is moves from normal to ‘not the norm,’ or not normal, or abnormal. It is mostly referred to as ‘the opposite of.’ For example, the opposite of content is discontent, the opposite of interest is disinterest, the opposite of liked is disliked, the opposite of order is disorder, and the opposite of ease is disease.

Any term with ‘dis’ means the opposite (not near to, or almost, or a few symptoms away). It is a direct position, a direct movement, or a direct action.

What is a disorder? What is a disease? Which one is worse?

A disease is an illness that has been defined by a set of signs and symptoms – it can be seen and touched. You either have the disease or you don’t. You might have symptoms that pre-suppose a disease (but it is not yet present) or symptoms that directly show that the disease is present. A disease can be infectious (passed onto someone else) or non-infectious. Its healing can be measured, although some diseases cannot be healed.

Examples of diseases include: common cold, cancer, hepatitis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, AIDS, tuberculosis, pneumonia, food poisoning, cholera, measles, and dementia.

A disorder is a disruption to the normal body function or behaviour. A disorder generally cannot be seen or touched, although it has a pattern of symptoms (not just one single symptom). It’s healing is more difficult to measure, and some disorders cannot be healed.

Examples of disorders include: phobia, depression (e.g., bipolar, clinical, postpartum, postnatal, psychotic, etc.), anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dissociative disorder, and diabetes.

What about other ‘dys’ words, such as dysfunctional, dystrophic, dysphasic, dyslexic, dyspeptic … How bad are they?

‘Dys’ means that something is hard, difficult, faulty, impaired, or abnormal. If something is dysfunctional, it is not functioning ‘normally’ which means that it is having difficulty functioning as expected. The term doesn’t indicate the extent, frequency, or gravity of the dysfunction – i.e., whether the difficulties are small, few, often, all the time, monumental, debilitating, or about to stop functioning.

Dysphasia is the impairment to say what you want to say; dysphagia is the difficulty to swallow; and dyspepsia is the suffering of digestive problems. Like a disorder, it cannot be seen or touched, although it has a pattern of symptoms, and can be progressively weakening, and it’s healing is more difficult to measure.

Therefore, any term with ‘dis’ means the opposite of the norm, and any term with ‘dys’ means moving away from. They have a different spelling, a different meaning, but the same sound.

Making my peace with disease, disorder, and other dis words, I learned the following:

  • Ask for clarification and meaning
  • Take a pause and get a fresh perspective
  • Adopt a more relaxed viewpoint
  • Keep the worry bug from getting the best of you
  • Avoid the chaos of overthinking
  • Believe in reality checks



Martina Nicolls: Rainy Day HealingMAKING MY PEACE



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