Friday, 1 July 2016

"Person first" language

I noticed an interesting article recently, and it prompted me to think again about a posting I had been considering on this topic.

It was several years ago that I first encountered this, in relationship to my son who is diabetic. Or as I was told at the time, who has diabetes. It had me thinking about my own depression and how I consider this.

So I was told that I shouldn't say my son is a diabetic, because that defines him by his illness. Then I consider that he has to test and inject several times a day, a routine that impacts his life hourly. It affects his health, and, when he is not good at controlling his levels and ends up in hospital, that takes him out for a day or so.

So his illness affects every part of his life, every day, and will for the rest of his life. It seems to me that describing him as "a diabetic", in the sense that this aspect does define a lot of his life, it is an important and significant aspect of who he is. Now it is not all he is, but it is one aspect that defines him. He is a diabetic, he is a boy, he is a geek, he is my son. None of these define him totally, all of them seem like valid aspects that are defining - and will be for the rest of his life.

In the same way, I am happy to define myself as a depressive. I cannot remember when I first started to suffer from this illness, but my age was in single figures. I have battled with this for some 45 years, through my "formative" teenage years, through my working life, through my marriage and children. It would be disingenuous at the least to try to identify myself apart from an illness that has been present for most of my life.

That doesn't mean I welcome the illness, but that I accept that it is formative and critical to who I am. To pretend that I now have an existence that is not impacted by my illness is to live in a fantasy. My illness does not totally define me, but it impacts everything about me. I am more than my depression, but everything about me is impacted by it. I might not like it, but that is the truth.

So I can see the appeal of "person first" language, but I think it is a dangerous approach to chronic illness, because it is pretending that life is different from what it is. So for me, I will continue to describe myself as a depressive. That is who I am, and I am quite happy to acknowledge it.

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