I remember the first day of my last job. Everyone was throwing around acronyms I’d never heard before, and I had trouble just following the basic line of the conversation. I asked around for a list of these acronyms, but there wasn’t one. I immediately started creating a list of my own. When someone new was hired the next year, I gave them a copy of my oh-so-valuable list.
Every group has their own language. Whether you’re discussing race, illness, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, sex, a job type, a career type, an industry, or anything else, you use certain vocabulary that the general population won’t understand. You have your own terms and abbreviations. Sometimes they’re obvious and you’re aware of them. But sometimes they’re less obvious.
I often forget about the CI (chronic illness) language. Sure, my CI friends know that PT means “physical therapy,” or sometimes “patient,” but the rest of the English-speaking world doesn’t always make that association. We know what a spoonie is. We throw around SSDI (social security disability insurance) and LTD (long term disability insurance) as if everyone knows those acronyms. We talk about medications, insurances, different types of pain, and legal issues in our own vernacular.
It doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t wake up one day knowing these terms and phrases. But bit by bit, it’s easy to pick them up. Within the hypothyroid community I assume everyone knows about TSH, T3, Anti-TPO, and the other thyroid hormones and antibodies. It’s just assumed. At first I was confused, but now those terms are just as familiar as “dogs and cats.” We experience something unique to us, and it’s so useful to have the vocabulary to discuss it with others.
This struck me today. I was in a room of CI folks, with one non-CI person, and we were trying to explain how our lives have been changed to that one person. I noticed people using words that he didn’t understand, and I caught myself trying to change my terminology to be more mainstream. Later, when it was just us CI folks again, it was so great to speak however we wanted and to really understand each other. There’s something really awesome about that. It felt easy and familiar. It helps us to bond.
The language isn’t perfect, but it helps us to understand one another, and that’s what’s important. So the next time you have the chance, I highly recommend that you visit a patient group or check out the patient communities on social media (personally I’m involved on Facebook as me and on Twitter as @CIRants) to learn the phrases they use. Then enjoy it! There’s something great about being able to communicate with others in our group in our own way and we need to make the most of it.