5 “Disorders” That Aren’t

1.  Shift Work Disorder (SWD)

I first learned of this disorder through a radio commercial for some drug that’s supposed to counteract it.  The drug’s name escapes me, but it could well have been NUVIGIL®, whose web site explains SWD as a medical condition that may affect 1 in 4 people out of the “15 million Americans [who] work outside of the traditional 9 to 5 schedule.”

SWD is a medical condition that can be diagnosed and treated by a doctor

SWD occurs when your body’s internal sleep-wake clock is out of sync with your work schedule—your body is telling you to go to sleep when your work schedule needs you to stay awake.

If you work non-traditional hours and struggle to stay awake at work, you may be experiencing excessive sleepiness (ES) due to SWD.

People with ES due to SWD often struggle to stay awake during their waking hours, or have trouble sleeping during their sleeping hours.

24 Hour Clock

And, of course, we then have the side effects that may be worse than the actual “condition”:

What important information should I know about NUVIGIL?

  • NUVIGIL may cause serious side effects including a serious rash or a serious allergic reaction that may affect parts of your body such as your liver or blood cells, and may result in hospitalization and be life-threatening. If you develop a skin rash, hives, sores in your mouth, blisters, swelling, peeling, or yellowing of the skin or eyes, trouble swallowing or breathing, dark urine, or fever, stop taking NUVIGIL and call your doctor right away or get emergency help.
  • NUVIGIL is not approved for children for any condition. It is not known if NUVIGIL is safe or if it works in children under the age of 17.
  • You should not take NUVIGIL if you have had a rash or allergic reaction to NUVIGIL or PROVIGIL® (modafinil) Tablets [C-IV], or are allergic to any of the following ingredients: modafinil, armodafinil, croscarmellose sodium, lactose monohydrate, magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose, povidone, or pregelatinized starch.

What are possible side effects of NUVIGIL?

  • Stop taking NUVIGIL and call your doctor or get emergency help if you get any of the following serious side effects:
    • Mental (psychiatric) symptoms, including: depression, feeling anxious, sensing things that are not really there, extreme increase in activity (mania), thoughts of suicide, aggression, or other mental problems
    • Symptoms of a heart problem, including: chest pain, abnormal heart beat, and trouble breathing
  • Common side effects of NUVIGIL are headache, nausea, dizziness, and trouble sleeping. These are not all the side effects of NUVIGIL.

I honestly don’t know which is worse: (A) having white bosses or managers peg you as “lazy” because you have trouble staying alert during rotating or night shifts that fuck with your body’s natural cycles, or (B) having white doctors diagnose you with SWD and prescribe medication that makes you dizzy and nauseous and may give you difficulty breathing.  Or (C) just avoiding the whole prescription thing and getting hooked on street methamphetamines.  Either way, as I said recently:


24 Hour Clock

2.  Gender Identity Disorder (GID)

302.85 Gender Identity Disorder


Next, let’s examine [. . .] Gender Identity Disorder. The diagnostic criteria for adults and adolescents [APA94] are:

A. A strong and persistent cross-gender identification (not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex). In adolescents and adults, the disturbance is manifested by symptoms such as a stated desire to be the other sex, frequent passing as the other sex, desire to live or be treated as the other sex, or the conviction that he or she has the typical feelings and reactions of the other sex.

B. Persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex. In adolescents and adults, the disturbance is manifested by symptoms such as preoccupation with getting rid of primary and secondary sex characteristics (e.g., request for hormones, surgery, or other procedures to physically alter sexual characteristics to simulate the other sex) or belief that he or she was born the wrong sex.


C. The disturbance is not concurrent with a physical intersex condition.

D. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Specify if (for sexually mature individuals) Sexually Attracted to Males, … Females,… Both, … Neither.

The clinical significant criterion, D, was added to all conditions in the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders section. The definition of “distress or impairment” lies at the heart of the issue of pathologization of gender expression.

If you’ve read or known me for a while, you probably know that I think GID is a bunch of bullshit. Apart from the fact that it conflates sex and gender (people inhabit and express All Kinds of Genders, which certainly don’t map neatly onto a binary sex-assignment system so half-assed that it doesn’t even account for basic and common human biological diversity), GID is all wrapped up in a medical system that *requires* people to conform to this narrow script (“I was born the wrong/opposite gender”; “I’m a man/woman trapped in a woman’s/man’s body”) in order to qualify for medical treatment that ought to be available to whoever wants it. It’s called gender self-determination, people. Or the abolition of gender (someday). Take your pick.

3.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Just to be clear: I’m not saying that the so-called “disorders” in this list don’t cause people a ton of pain. It’s horrible to live on the brink of nodding off while driving trucks all day and night. It’s scary to face a society that questions and/or criminalizes and/or may kill you for failing/refusing to conform to your assigned sex and socialized gender. It’s awful to suffer nightmares, waking terrors, and flashbacks from a traumatic event. All I’m saying is that in a society that equates disorders with shamefulness and even immorality, we would do well to avoid blaming/pathologizing individuals for what are primarily social and structural problems.

This is part of why I love Operation: Recovery (led by Iraq Veterans Against the War) as a tactic of resistance to US militarization.

Operation Recovery


Service members who experience PTSD, TBI, MST, and combat stress have the right to exit the traumatic situation and receive immediate support, and compensation. Too often, service members are forced to redeploy back into dangerous combat, or train in situations that re-traumatize them. We say, individuals suffering from trauma have the right to remove themselves from the source of the trauma. Service members who are not physically or mentally healthy shall not be forced to deploy or continue service. Learn more about what Operation Recovery is fighting for here

Rather than acquiescing to dominant narratives positing PTSD as a sign of mental weakness, IVAW reclaims woundedness and a right to heal. Racist, sexist, homophobic, imperialist, earth-degrading war is the problem; not individual combatants’ mental fragility. (a.k.a. humanity.)

4.  Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS)


Lotta people in this world, including medical experts, simply don’t buy that MCS is a real thing.

Many experts and major medical organizations — such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology — have stated that the connection between the patient’s symptoms and environmental exposures are speculative and evidence of disease is lacking. The American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs believes that multiple chemical sensitivity should not be considered a recognized clinical syndrome.

But hold up, Kloncke. I thought you were mad at the medical establishment for over-pathologizing. Now they’re under-pathologizing?? Make up your damn mind, girl!

Fair. But here’s why I include this one: regardless of what Science says, in the world where I live, people get harmed by chemicals. Like the webMD article says:

People who have the symptoms [including headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, etc] may blame them on a major event, such as a chemical spill. Or they may point to long-term contact with low levels of chemicals at work, perhaps while working in an office with poor ventilation. Reported triggers include tobacco smoke, auto exhaust, perfume, insecticide, new carpet, chorine, and countless others.

And most of the time, folks who have identified certain chemical triggers that make them feel sick have a helluva time convincing other people and institutions to take that shit seriously. So in effect, people with MCS (whether or not medical associations recognize it as a ‘real thing’) are treated as disordered and irrational, and pushed out of many spaces directly or indirectly.

But as with PTSD, GID, and SWD, the main problem isn’t individual frailty or deviance; it’s systemic oppression. Environmental illness is not an individual person’s problem. Society-wide, there’s a profit motive to manufacture goods at the cheapest rate possible in order to outdo competitors — and often this means adding cheap, unsafe chemicals and preservatives to products; manufacturing commodities in conditions that are super unsafe for workers; or constructing toxic industry in poor neighborhoods — all of which can contribute to chronic environmental illnesses.


It’s also true that folks’ MCS can be triggered by high-end products like top-of-the-line essential oils, etc. From what I understand, this is due to an underlying reaction pattern that makes them much more sensitive to highly concentrated manufactured shit in general: even if the stuff being concentrated is sandalwood or lavender. Whatever the particular triggers, the main point is: thanks to an economy driven by profit motives, owned by a ruling class, and utterly unaccountable to regular people, poor and working-class people disproportionately have to put up with ubiquitous toxic externalities and poisons. Are we surprised when people’s bodies show significant signs of damage?

Now, bringing down these hyper-toxified manufacturers and the ruling class that controls them might take a minute. In the meantime, fortunately, there are things we can do to respect and support our friends and comrades with MCS (and probly make our own spaces a little healthier while we’re at it). Check out this recently-crafted Fragrance Free Femme Of Colour Realness guide for tips and resources!

5.  Infantile Disorder (LOL)

j/k. Lenin jokes, anyone?

This is just a partial list, drawing together various issues that have been on my mind lately. I’m sure you / we can think of more! And I do want to be really clear: I’m not arguing that all illness is socially constructed -slash- doesn’t exist. Yes, illnesses exist. “Birth, old age, sickness, and death” (as the Buddhist phrase goes). Inevitable, in many respects. What concerns me is that capitalist society blames *our bodies* for struggling to survive under *its torments.*

Eff that noise. Our bodies — in all their beautiful fragility, disability, diversity — are not the problem. You want problems?

  • Wage Slavery
  • Heteropatriarchy, Transphobia & Cissexism
  • War
  • Racist, Earth-Degrading Capitalism.

Happy Monday, friends!  See you out there.

7 thoughts on “5 “Disorders” That Aren’t

  1. Max Airborne March 26, 2012 / 11:49 am

    Have I told you lately that I love you?

    Thank you for posting this. I am reminded of the Krishnamurti quote: ““It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

  2. kloncke March 26, 2012 / 11:56 am

    mmmmmmmm, yes on that quote. Max you inspire me so much! Thank you! I don’t think I told you but an article you posted recently on POC in the fat justice movement has been really helpful for me in thinking through some recent race dynamics in an organization I’m a part of. Hella gratitude and love right back atcha. :)

  3. jpjesusss March 26, 2012 / 11:57 am


  4. aneeeeeeeta March 26, 2012 / 12:33 pm

    on point. and third(ed?haha)!

  5. kyrani99 March 31, 2012 / 8:03 am

    ““It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” I agree and we need to appreciate just how sick societies all around the world are, particularly in the West. You disorder and not really disorder only names a few. You are welcomed to visit my blog at http://kyrani99.wordpress.com/ to see that not only disorders but what we are told are diseases, such as cancer and heart disease are forms of severe maltreatment and by people we know and trust.. the so-called “loved ones” for the same of power and influence.

  6. Jovean McQueen June 9, 2013 / 12:51 pm

    “(A) having white bosses or managers peg you as “lazy” because you have trouble staying alert during rotating or night shifts that fuck with your body’s natural cycles, or (B) having white doctors diagnose you with…”

    Congratulations, you are racist… unless this was written in the 1920s when not all races were tolerated as doctors in the US.

  7. Jovean McQueen June 9, 2013 / 12:54 pm

    Meant to type “doctors/management” there…

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