Do you have a designer disease?

My designer drug of choice.

My designer drug of choice.




Researching on the Internet is ubiquitous. When I was a kid a million years ago, researchers were people who lived in places the rest of us thought were quaint if not boring, and we felt sorry for eggheads. Those of us who loved The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature didn’t confide our little secret to many people. Now, however. . .

I’ve heard the phrase “designer disease” over the years and I’ve been thinking and writing about DD’s the last couple of days [if you ask me why, I won’t tell you]. My first step in writing was naturally to Google “designer disease” –not to go to a scholarly database because that would spoil the fun.

The first promising website I found was The Doctor Within. Promising.

Designer jeans, designer shirts, designer handbag s . . .  Take an ordinary item, put a name on it, a couple million in marketing and promotion, and voilà – its value is raised . . . How? By skillfully creating an illusion of worth in the malleable, fickle, public “consciousness” . . . Everyone gets mildly depressed from time to time. . . A new disease. . . [and we] have the most advanced marketing machine in human history already in place. We can create a disease out of almost nothing. . . It will be A Designer Disease (1).

As I instruct my students to do, I searched for Dr. O’Shea’s credentials. He has none available on the Internet except he’s a Dallas Chiropractor who rails against standard medicine (vaccinations and ADD) and (probably) makes a lot of money selling his designer ideas to gullible fundamentalist Christian home-schoolers.

But I do like his description of designer diseases. I have one of those. It is not, in itself, a laughing matter. However, any bizarre or macabre subject can be treated with humor—even if the reader doesn’t “get it.” Two of my four classes studying Robert Louis Stevenson’s story “The Body Snatcher” “get” the humor of an academic article about the history of grave robbing for medical school anatomization of corpses. The primary example of the article is Ruth Sprague who was snatched from her grave in London in 1846.

Her body stolen by fiendish men,
Her bones anatomized,
Her soul, we trust, has risen to God,
Where few physicians rise

Academic articles are not intended to put a twinkle in your eye. But Nuland’s is. And, while my writing is decidedly not academic, can you see my tongue thrust resolutely against my cheek?

Sometime between 1956 and 1958. I’m standing on my bed screaming. It’s 9 PM and I’m supposed to be asleep, but my folks are having a

Millwood, the designer hospital of choice?

Millwood, the designer hospital of choice?

church meeting upstairs and keeping me awake. My heart is pounding, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why I’m standing on my bed screaming.

Perhaps 1962. My (secret) heartthrob Steve isn’t picking me up for school. It’s snowing and Mom is driving us because our collective parents don’t trust Steve. No time alone with Steve and no smoking. I’m in front of the bathroom mirror shaving, and in a rage I cannot understand, I purposefully cut my ear lobe with my razor and bleed all over. But they make me go to school.

May, 1964. I have to go home for the summer and leave the graduate student I’m in love with behind at the university. I have packaging tape for the boxes to send home. In the middle of the night I tape shut all the doors of the music school. Pretty funny, huh? In case you think that’s just a college-boy prank, you can ponder why I was crying uncontrollably the whole time.

This isn’t funny, is it? I’ll stop with the stories.

One more.

November, 2008. I want to kill myself. I can’t stand the depression any more. I call my therapist (I didn’t really want to die), and I end up in Millwood Mental Hospital for two weeks. That WAS funny. All of the doors had signs over them, “Warning! Elopement Danger!” They didn’t mean a couple of us were going to run off and get married.

We watched hour after hour of “Cash Cab” on TV. And “Jeopardy.”  I can hardly stand the sight of Alex Trebek even now. But I’d elope with Ben Bailey any day.

Some things are pretty hard to make silly.

Patients with Bipolar II disorders have typically experienced one or more major depressive episodes with at least one hypomanic episode. . . a period of at least 4 days with an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood (3).

A designer disease. (See a few statements below about DD’s I’ve found in my “research.”) 

The older I get the more complicated things seem. Or, conversely, perhaps I see more clearly every day.  A diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder would explain a lot. The “episodes” I’ve described above are a few I’ve pulled out of my memory hat. They continue (ask my friends about my broken cane in the cathedral at Rauma, Finland, this summer).

Dr. Bennett, a designer doctor of choice?

Dr. Bennett, a designer doctor of choice?

I know Bipolar II was the designer disorder of the decade in 2008, but I trust the doctors who cared for me at Millwood. I saw an internist and a psychiatrist every day for two weeks. I think they had a pretty good picture of my “disorder(s).”

I don’t give a hoot what the diagnosis is. I know that I’m sometimes not a very nice guy, and that I have anger issues and depression. So does everyone else. Some of us just have a stronger dose of them. So as I plunge through this senescence stuff, I just want you to know that most of the time when I’m raging or crying it has nothing to do with you.

Most of the time.
(1) O’Shea, Dr. Tim. “ADD: A Designer Disease.” The Doctor Within. MMXIII. Web. 27 Sep. 2013.
(2) Quoted in: Nuland, Sherman. “The Uncertain Art.” American Scholar , 70.2 (July 2001), 125.
(3) A standard description, this from:  Mynatt, Sarah, Patricia Cunningham, and J. Sloan Manning. “Identify Bipolar Spectrum Disorders.” Nurse Practitioner 27.6 (2002): 15.

Baer, Katie. “Still Puzzling After All These Years. (Cover Story).” Harvard Health Letter 18.11 (1993): 1.
Although CFS [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome] has yet to earn its own heading in medical textbooks, it is now recognized as an established syndrome (a specific collection of associated symptoms and signs). In the mid-1980s CFS was often dismissed as “yuppie flu,” the designer disease of the decade.

Driedger, Sharon Doyle. “Overcoming Depression. (Cover Story).” Maclean’s 114.46 (2001): 34.My family doctor prescribed Prozac to help me ride out the slump. It made me feel weird, spacey. Besides, I don’t like being lumped in with the pill-popping crowd who can’t cope without a designer drug. So I stopped. Really, I should be able to get over it myself. I tell my kids: “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Why couldn’t I think my way out of depression?

Miller, Toby, and Marie Claire Leger. “A Very Childish Moral Panic: Ritalin.” Journal Of Medical Humanities 24.1/2 (2003): 9-33.
We find new ways to explain the panic, if not to adjudicate on it, and conclude that Ritalin is, as per the wider designer drug phenomenon, the latest path to the United States upward-mobility fantasy of transcendence, a combination of the pleasure and self-development sides of United States popular culture.

Rosellini, Lynn. “Sexual Desire. (Cover Story).” U.S. News & World Report 113.1 (1992): 60.
And while no one can properly distinguish why some people channel childhood anxieties into food or booze while others fasten on sex, it may be that what eating disorders were to the ’80s, desire disorders will be in the ’90s: the designer disease of the decade, the newest symptom of American loneliness and alienation.

2 Responses to Do you have a designer disease?

  1. Pingback: Lita Roza and I—awake together at 4:30 AM—writing but sober | Me, senescent

  2. Pingback: “. . . a lantern, burning in the midst of parenthetical opaqueness. . . “ (1) | Me, senescent

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