Tag Archives: words

in defense of “trying”

yodathe word “trying” has a bad rap. why?

yoda said, “do, or do not. there is no try“. there is the idea that “trying” is associated with excuses, that trying comes just before failing, that trying implies no commitment, etc.

fair enough.

here are my points:

what does try mean?

let’s start by looking at some definitions of “try”:

  • to examine or investigate judicially
  • to put to test
  • to make an attempt

trying and commitment

when i google the word “trying”, the first site after the definition is trying to conceive. that’s interesting. all the women i know who are or have been “trying to conceive” are very, very committed to the process. one person i know spent eight years until she found what was working for her and her husband – and lots of blood, sweat and tears, not to mention dollars. i don’t think that there is a lack of commitment, or that “trying” stands for making lame excuses.

try and persistence

the last request in the extended version of the serenity prayer says

… and the strength to get up and try again, one day at a time.

trying, honest, earnest trying, requires strength. “trying” may make some people think of excuses – it often makes me think of persistence. “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again” and again, and again, and again.

trying as a process – example: quitting smoking

in addition to parents who try to conceive, another “trying” comes to mind: research shows that most people who successfully quit smoking have tried a number of times before they succeed. that was certainly true for me. interestingly enough, my first attempt or two were not overly committed. but the desire to quit grew over time. i honestly don’t know what the outcome would have been had someone said to me that trying isn’t good enough.

so what about yoda?

now i don’t want to diss yoda. i have a soft spot for him (you can even find him on my bathroom altar) so i want to take him seriously. in the snippet in question, luke says to yoda, with a dejected eeyore type of voice, “ok, i’ll try.” when yoda says, “do. or do not” i think the point is more about confidence than about dismissing the idea of trying wholeheartedly.

suffering from a lack of confidence (which, often enough, is truly a form of suffering) or simple being half-assed is something that you can do without invoking the concept of trying. i know enough people who say, “i’ll commit myself to … (losing weight, exercising, writing that letter, etc.)” and still don’t do it.

so leave the word “try” alone already.

(or go another route – try [!] the concept of “allowing“).

image by orange_beard

escaping the prison of depression, out into a landscape of … ?

escape from prisonalmost two weeks ago now, catatonic kid (let’s call her CK) posted another entry in our cross-blog conversation about depression and language. in fighting darkness, recovering words, CK took her words and crafted a beautiful post. it’s a work of art and it, along with her readers’ comments, also raises a number of very interesting points. i found myself combing through at as i would for text research.

here are a two of the themes that came up for me:

though shalt not know, thou shalt not speak
dano macnamarrah left this comment:

my body shows the awful truth of living silently in pain. my arms and legs bear witness through countless pale scars of sewn up cuts, pink clouds from burns and livid areas of scabs i worry at.

… it’s safer and better to vocalize my pain, than share it on my skin.

i’ve spent years painting and scribbling my pain, but i have found that writing a blog is better than a diary. in a personal journal, one can get swept away by the terrible tides of isolated madness.

as CK pointed out, in an earlier post i had talked about the connection between creativity, oppression and depression. this connection can be seen again here. a therapist i saw for a long time often used the idea of torture as a metaphor of suffering in relationships. the essence of torture, he’d say, is to be captured and “done by”. torture is oppression. “living silently in pain” sounds like that to me. pain is the torture, silence is the prison guard, silence that says, “you are not allowed to know what’s going on. you must not speak.” and we all have that instinct to break out, or at least to do something about the torture and the prison. dano’s solution was to “share it on the skin”, using the language of torture (cutting and burning) to attempt a prison break.

says CK,

sometimes depression is all we know, all that’s familiar, and even though it’s dark we incidentally feed the darkness by not naming the seemingly unknowable.

a similar image, isn’t it? prisons are dark, and after we’ve spent a long time in them, they start to feel familiar and oddly comfortable. and we start using the language of prison.

how much healthier it is to use the language of words and creativity, and to share them out loud, as dano and CK and so many others do on their blogs.

language as a key to unlock the doors depression slams shut
when i first started collecting these themes, i had not even seen the connection between the images of prison and torture and the idea of unlocking doors.

CK again:

… discover those words which fit into the sore spots in our minds, and unlock the doors depression slams shut. meaningful language is a key – a very powerful tool we can use to experience the totality of being.

what a freeing thought, that these words are “discovered”, not, as in a prison situation, keys that are stolen and smuggled. what is needed then, especially in more intense experiences of depression, are the patience and energy to keep exploring. fortunately, if the right light is shone on what is found, every word, every phrase, every image can be a key, a gold nugget of freedom. the trick is to ask ourselves at every turn, “how can i use this? how can i use this word, this description, this little story, to escape the prison of depression?” (by the way, that brings me back to creativity. i’m thinking of my father, an artist, who would often exhort us not to throw out any little odd-looking doodads: “no, no, we have to keep it! i can use it in a collage!”)

my job as a counsellor is to help the people with whom i work to find and sustain the needed energy and patience. and when depression hits me, i need to run (yes, i said “run”; no time can be lost) to those who, in turn, can help me with that.

further on, CK says,

“i am depression’s dictionary”; and
“what resources do you discover when you begin to speak, and to map the hidden country of your mind?”

for those of us with years and years of dealing with depression, there is definitely still discovery, but somehow there is also a repository, a “dictionary” of depression. as i am writing this, i am actually imagining a word cloud. “lonely” probably wouldn’t show up big in my cloud, but “paralyzed”, “confused” and “indecisive” would loom large. when i “click” on these words in my mind, i will hopefully find some meaning – but also beyond that – maybe i need click again – an escape map: yoga. poetry. sunlight. walks.

if you deal with depression or other types of mental health challenges – what does your word cloud look like?  what’s on the map?

(ps. i wrote this post very tired, my eyes half closed through much of it. first i thought i should just leave it and edit it the next day. but it occurred to me that in view of the topic, writing it in this trance/fog might have its own revelatory power …)


image by amin tabrizi

depression and the power of language

depression is a state of subtraction, says catatonic kid,

depression is not an approachable thing. it seems, in fact, to be precisely the opposite. it has a power to repel that is apparently so strong that it stops our mouths before we have even thought to speak of all that runs through its dark night.


there are barriers around the whole experience of depression, and that’s unfortunate because it means we don’t have language, yet, for the most common states of it. it’s like the apocryphal story of how very many words eskimos have for snow…

in this cross-blog conversation with catanonic kid, maybe we can break down the barriers, make it more approachable.

wordwide, depression is the leading cause of disability and the 4th leading contributor to the global burden of disease, affecting 121 million people altogether. we better find a few words for it!

and we do have words. a sample from catatonic kid and her commenters

a grey wash over everything, a strange and fuzzy cloud, a bell jar, an emotional topper, a thick wall between the individual and the rest of the world …

depression is a barren space, a shore that no-one wants to swim to. i understand that so well. i feel contagious when I am so sickened. i would not want this awful mind to be visited by even the worst people…

a shapeless mess

in a previous post, i observed how words of numbness and emptiness are most common among people who describe depression.

the point i see is that – these are words.  maybe words that we don’t like, maybe words that describe something that makes us feel uncomfortable, but they are valid nevertheless. and i belong to those who think that language, meaningful language, can be a tool in dealing with depression. by leaving depression in the darkness of wordlessness, i give it more power; like a wet rag left in a warm kitchen, this darkness is a perfect breeding ground for dis-ease.

meaningful language. meaningful language is powerful language. ever been to a workshop where the facilitator writes on a flipchart? know that irritable feeling when they re-interpret your words (you say “brother” and they write “sibling”; you say “joyful” and they write “positive”) and, conversely, the great feeling when you see your own words?

i think it’s the same with depression (and with any mental illness, and, indeed any experience).

let’s find, express, use and stand up for our own words for depression. whatever they may be. numb? bleak? empty? what’s wrong with those words? darkness. dust. suffocation. “paralysis” is a word that happens to fit my personal experience with depression.

the more we can use these words, the more we invigorate our own experience, the less helpless we need to feel when it seems that others want to engulf us with their language – the language of those who are well-meaning but really don’t understand the experience, or the language of the overprofessionalized DSM-IV. why accept a word like “anhedonia” if it doesn’t fit the bill? it’s like letting your pharmacist name your cat. (that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t use those words, too – but i don’t think they’re enough.)

when we are right in the depression, perhaps at first we cannot take charge like that. however, when there are recurring episodes of depression, we learn, over time, to pick up some tools, and train ourselves in more powerful times to respond in helpful ways when the depression hits again.

and language, many say, is the most powerful tool ever invented by humans. why not use it?

a poem, with love

william bouguereau: maternal admirationwhatever you say
it’s alright
i take your word
i take it in
into my ears
into my heart
into my bones
i take your words into the cradle of my arms
rock them to sleep in their own sound
and let them rest and let them dream
deep in my soul

when they wake up
i’ll give them back to you
fresh, young, awake, ready to sing:
your words – so right, so lovely …

what do your favourite words tell you about yourself?

yesterday, i came across a post by lisa collazo on good therapy that inspired me to follow her idea to really look into what words mean for us. one of her questions was – what are your favourite words?

here they are, with an explanation why – and read on, because we’ll turn it into a meme!

captain haddock from the famous comic strip tintinblistering barnacles
i like this word – these words – because they start with b. i have a thing about words that start with b. b’s are soft and friendly and make me think of bubbly porridge. plus it’s a word used by captain haddock in tintin. oh, and i like barnacles – i have a wonderful memory of spending a whole afternoon looking at barnacles with my husband.

what does sassafras mean? i’m not quite sure. oh! a deciduous tree. originally used in the manufacture of root beer. now used in the manufacture of ecstasy. but what a nice word! i like how the mouth goes up and down when saying it.

now that’s another nice word. it’s a drug, too, i know, but that’s not my problem. the experience of ecstasy will long outlast that little drug. ecstasy is an exciting word, a short and easy-ish word, and i like all the sharp sounds in it. i like it better than the german “ekstase” (extaah-say) which sounds like you’re yawning.

that’s my husband’s name. so that’s good to begin with. it’s another soft and easy word. and it immediately conjures up its meaning – the image of a green clearing in the woods, somewhere in england maybe?

i like that word because it is one of my very close friend danielle’s favourite words (“it makes me feel so english!” she says). she uses it whenever she can – so it makes me think of her.

what does all of this tell you about me (or tell me about me)?

  • words have a sensuous, tactile quality for me. yup, i’m a very tactile person. (the meaning of these words is less important as the feel and sound of them).
  • relationships play a large role: three out of the five words mention people.
  • nature plays a part, too: two words have trees in them, and then we have the barnacle
  • there’s a sense of playfulness in all of this (no wonder she likes tintin!)

let’s make this a meme!

  • what are your favourite words, and why?
  • what does that tell us about you?
  • write about it on your blog and invite other bloggers to write about it.
  • link back to this blog (change therapy at http://moritherapy.org) and i’ll
    • gather the words and contributors in a list and publish it
    • stumble your “favourite word” post (as long as they meet my stumble criteria, which shouldn’t be difficult with a post like this)

ready, set, go!

i tag

  1. lifecruiser
  2. wendy of windy angel
  3. karen of abaminds
  4. fier of mindmoleskine
  5. rudolf of poem tree
  6. neena of neenmachine
  7. lawrence of a long, long road
  8. jess of jessicaper
  9. maritim of afro puffs
  10. tina at discover the truth about reading

and, of course, everyone else who wants to play!

(image by joffley)

watchful words: 7 ways to rename a mental illness

in thinking about today’s blog post and still in line with this week’s theme of the national mental health week, i came back to one of my favourite books about therapy, ben furman’s and tapani ahola’s solution talk: hosting therapeutic conversations. the following is an excerpt and summary of the chapter, “watchful wording” where they talk about diagnostic terms.

names, labels and diagnostic concepts in mental health are more than just innocent terms used to refer to particular problems. they are also shorthand for underlying beliefs and assumptions about the nature of the problem. they refer not only to observable behaviour but also to a host of presuppositions about important questions such as severity, course, causation, and therapeutic interventions.

to select a particular term is to subscribe to a legion of underlying assumptions associated with that term. words used in psychiatry and psychology (e.g. identity disorder, symbiotic psychosis, major depression) often tell us little, sometimes almost nothing, about the actual problem, but a great deal about what we should think about it.

here are some examples of wording mental health issues in ways that are more descriptive, more meaningful and, most importantly, more helpful and conducive to healing. the important thing to keep in mind is we are not trying to re-invent terminology here; rather, the aim is to make the words a better fit to a particular experience.

furman and ahola were called in to help workers on a crisis line deal with an annoying, intimidating caller, who they referred to as “the aggressive caller”. what’s a name that fits his behaviour but would also be agreeable to him? they renamed him “the midnight cowboy”.

people with borderline personality disorder can simply be “going through turbulent times.”

“feeling blue”, “down in the dumps” are well-known synonyms for depression. and how about “taking an inventory break” or “gathering energy”?

then – putting a positive twist on “brooding” – brooding is like hatching. what’s the person hatching? what’s the exciting new thing that’s about to be born?

i also love the idea of switching the idea of “masked depression” to “latent joy”.

instead of “alcoholic”, one could refer to “needing to cut back on the drinking”; another suggestion was “tormented by the booze-worm”.

chronic schizophrenia, say furman and ahola, “is the conventional label for long-lasting deviant behaviour associated with bizarre ideas”. other terms for it might be “in the corner lifestyle” (proposed by michael white).

“wild imagination”, “daydreaming”, “having ghosts” or “being scared to death” are alternatives to using the words “psychotic symptoms”.

finally, christina chew asks whether people with autism and/or asperger’s syndrome aren’t just “quirky” or “gifted”.

any more ideas out there on giving “pet names” to your emotional experiences?

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver