How has language affected your relationship with mental health?


I’m about to send out the BV newsletter. In it I ask the questions,

“How has language affected your relationship with mental health?”

“Are there words that you are afraid to use in “mixed” company?”

I want a place for a discussion of the topic to land, so I’m creating this thread for it. If you’ve read the newsletter, what do you think?


Hi Meredith,

You know I’m big on language, too. Words do indeed have power. In fact, they create the world around us by differentiating one ‘thing’ from another ‘thing.’ Language ‘things’ the universe. Without language, words, there would be no distinct things.

I know all of that is highly philosophical, so I’ll try to be more practical.

When we come up with a term for something, it becomes real. The word is a tool that allows us to conceptualize something in a way that makes it easier to discuss it, to think about it. Words are awesome. I have to say that because I’m a writer. lol

But, and here’s the rub, they are a kind of illusion. A word isn’t the thing. The word ‘anxiety’ isn’t the experience of anxiety. It’s too narrow, as you pointed out, or alluded to, in your article this morning. Experience goes way beyond anything words can capture. But experience is hard to covey to someone else, so we invented language to do that, but it’s always a very poor tool.

One cannot explain the totality of the experience of how a forest looks, feels, smells, in words, any more than you can explain the experience of brain-spin, overthinking, anxiety, depression, with words. But words are our default tool. We have others. This is where film and sound help to pick up where words leave off. Imagine if Spielberg had decided to just write a book about Schindler? With no images, just black text on a white page. It would have failed to convey the message he was trying to get across. But the film, with sound, is powerful.

Storytelling, in all its forms is very useful to get across what we’re tying to talk about. Sometimes that’s accomplished in words; sometimes it’s better with visual medium.

I’ve written extensively about my struggles with overthinking, as you know, though I tend to call it brain-spin, my Waring Blender of dog shit n crackers, or my whirlpool of piss. All of these are metaphors, language, employed in an attempt to capture what it FEELS LIKE to be in that state of mind. Whether it captures some of it or not, I leave to the reader. For me, it does, a bit. But it’s always short of the actual experience. I’m not sure that even Spielberg could capture overthinking on film. But I might not bet against it.


Thank you so much for this thoughtful response, @Steve_Bivans. I really enjoyed it. Esp the line “Language ‘things’ the universe.”

It’s interesting to me that you are writing to capture your own experience of anxiety, whereas often I am writing to ease and sooth the reader who is experiencing anxiety with my word choice. Just something I notice as I read your last paragraph and think back about how I choose my words.

Does it all start with one’s goal as a writer?