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52 Responses

  1. kate217
    kate217 June 24, 2008 at 2:17 pm |

    Very interesting post. I think that part of the problem is that in English, we frequently have more than one definition for a single word. The dictionary lists fondness (as in “crazy about tennis”) and “ridiculous” as definitions for crazy. Once a word becomes a perjorative for any definition of a word, there are people who associate that insult with all definitions of it. I understand that impulse, and in many ways applaud it, but it saddens me that perfectly good words are forced out of use this way.

  2. Rachel
    Rachel June 24, 2008 at 2:39 pm |

    First I want to thank you for being so open with people you don’t really know. It takes a lot of guts to talk about issues and experiences that only a small minority of the general population experiences (such as psychological issues), especially in a society where anyone who displays any sort of psychological disturbance is automatically dismissed. (Even if it’s just a psychological manifestation of physiological issues — my experience was related to migraines and being told by a clinician that my migraine auras were symptoms of schizophrenia and should be treated with anti-psychotics. Oy. Bygones.) Secondly, I want to tell you that it’s okay to be afraid. I’m sure you’ve heard this all before and probably have internalized a lot of it as well, but I just want to reinforce that there’s nothing wrong with being afraid so there’s no reason to get down on yourself when you feel that way. I’m sure you have a great support system. :-)

    I think that the important thing to remember, related to regulating language is that we should get upset about language that is used to dismiss someone who has legitimate claims. The “crazy” pro-lifers who kill abortion doctors are not being dismissed by being called crazy: they’re being dismissed because they’re murderous f***heads who hate women. Any number of “crazy” pundits who, from the ideas and so-called facts they espouse are clearly not in touch with the same reality to which the rest of us subscribe are… actually, technically crazy and delusional. We can’t start saying that it’s “ableist” to call someone delusional and crazy when they are acting delusional and crazy. Personally, I don’t see calling a right-wing hack-job delusional or crazy as having any affect on people with genuine psychological and physiological illnesses — cause, let’s face it, stupidity and ignorance are not illnesses.

    Next thing we know, calling someone a narcissist is going to be ableist. Not okay.

  3. Jodi
    Jodi June 24, 2008 at 2:58 pm |

    I would rather not use the word “crazy” for people who are bullies, evil, ignorant, malign, or hypocritical. I think it’s foolish to dismiss people like this by either implying that they are not in full control of their mental or emotional processes (because they are) OR intimating that their actions are so unusual that we can’t make sense of them (because we can understand WHY they are doing those things even though we don’t agree with them). They are willfully hurting others with their actions or attitudes, and they have a whole raft of reasons that many people find believable.

    When we dismiss them, we lose, and everyone loses.

  4. akeeyu
    akeeyu June 24, 2008 at 3:59 pm |

    I think you’ve got some excellent points, here.

    My big problem with the previous post about “able-ist language” was that it immediately made me think “Aw, fuck. Does this mean they’re calling me disabled now, just because I’m a little nuts?”

    I felt very othered by the post, because I felt that it was written from a standpoint of “We, the ablebody/minded folks, must not be less than charitable to the disadvantaged.” I realize that this may not be how she meant it, but it’s how it came across to me, and it kind of pissed me off, because mental illness does not necessarily equal disability*.

    *…aaaand not that there’s anything wrong with being disabled, but there are completely different connotations if you say “I’m disabled; my legs don’t work,” and “I’m disabled; my brain doesn’t work.” Totally different reactions that you get from people/society at large.

  5. CM
    CM June 24, 2008 at 4:32 pm |

    A close friend of mine has her own set of mental issues, and she’s fond of calling herself “crazy” — but she also thinks everyone has a bit of crazy in them, and I’m inclined to agree.

  6. Jennifer
    Jennifer June 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm |

    I have two versions of “crazy,” actually.

    Crazy Level One means that you think differently from the general population. Crazy Level Two is when, to quote my mother about my father, you “live in a different reality.”

    Our language doesn’t really seem to differentiate between the two that well, but it should.

  7. Alexandra
    Alexandra June 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm |

    I think that the important thing to remember, related to regulating language is that we should get upset about language that is used to dismiss someone who has legitimate claims. The “crazy” pro-lifers who kill abortion doctors are not being dismissed by being called crazy: they’re being dismissed because they’re murderous f***heads who hate women. Any number of “crazy” pundits who, from the ideas and so-called facts they espouse are clearly not in touch with the same reality to which the rest of us subscribe are… actually, technically crazy and delusional. We can’t start saying that it’s “ableist” to call someone delusional and crazy when they are acting delusional and crazy. Personally, I don’t see calling a right-wing hack-job delusional or crazy as having any affect on people with genuine psychological and physiological illnesses — cause, let’s face it, stupidity and ignorance are not illnesses.

    So… why not just call stupid or ignorant people stupid and ignorant? Why not call ridiculous actions ridiculous?

    I think it’s totally missing the point to say that you can call people “crazy” so long as they’re ideologically unacceptable, but not if they’re people you like. Much as I might agree that it’s wrong-headed and short-sighted to support pro-life policies, that it’s cruel and oppressive to work to restrict women’s reproductive choices, I don’t think it’s crazy. I’m pretty sure most of the top officials in pro-life movements know exactly what they’re doing. I’m sure they’re as “smart” as most people around. They’re just cruel.

  8. Betsy
    Betsy June 24, 2008 at 5:24 pm |

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful and insightful post. I really appreciate it.

    It takes a lot of guts to talk about issues and experiences that only a small minority of the general population experiences (such as psychological issues)

    Really? Only a small minority of the general population experiences psychological issues? That surprises me, since so many people I know have struggled with serious depression or other problems. I know that anecdotes /= data, but still. I wonder what the numbers actually are.

  9. Renee
    Renee June 24, 2008 at 5:27 pm |

    Calling people crazy or retarded for that matter is part of our common discourse. How many times can it be heard in one day and yet when you point out that using someones life experience as a negative descriptor eyes begin to role. We need to seriously consider the language that we choose use when in engaging in conversation. True respect for all means not belittling someones experience or creating them as other simply because we lack the imagination to use language effectively. Thank you for this most honest post.

  10. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne June 24, 2008 at 5:40 pm |

    So… why not just call stupid or ignorant people stupid and ignorant? Why not call ridiculous actions ridiculous?

    Because sometimes the things people say are, well, crazy. How else do you characterize the sincere belief of a lot of people in the right-wing blogosphere (Michelle Malkin leaps to mind as a prominent example) that al-Qaeda is going to invade the United States and force all of us to obey sharia law?

    I’m sorry, but that’s completely crazy. How on earth are the couple thousand (at best) al-Qaeda members going to successfully invade and subdue a country of 300 million people? And yet they do genuinely, sincerely believe it. It’s not stupidity or ignorance. It’s delusion. It’s crazy.

    (Oh, and add me to the “brain not work right” group. Wellbutrin is my best friend.)

  11. Lotte
    Lotte June 24, 2008 at 6:02 pm |

    A close friend of mine has her own set of mental issues, and she’s fond of calling herself “crazy” — but she also thinks everyone has a bit of crazy in them, and I’m inclined to agree.

    I agree entirely!

    And I do the same myself (I am a fellow PTSD sufferer with anxiety issues as well). And I describe myself as being crazy to the point where I use it as my log-in name on a couple of websites… (I also use Crazycatlady as well, but that is a personal joke between me and a couple of friends to describe my fondness for my cat’s company)

    But then there is crazy and crazy.

    It can be used in an affectionate way “You are crazy and I love you” or it can be used as an insult “You crazy bitch”.

    And when it is used by someone to describe themselves it is a way of making light of a situation that might otherwise make them cry.

  12. roses
    roses June 24, 2008 at 6:12 pm |

    How else do you characterize the sincere belief of a lot of people in the right-wing blogosphere (Michelle Malkin leaps to mind as a prominent example) that al-Qaeda is going to invade the United States and force all of us to obey sharia law?

    Absurd? Ridiculous?

  13. Rosemary Grace
    Rosemary Grace June 24, 2008 at 6:22 pm |

    Betsy:

    I know that anecdotes /= data, but still. I wonder what the numbers actually are.

    I’m in the same boat with you: I know many people who have or have had struggles with their mental health. I’m studying for a Master’s in Epidemiology, and according to a lecture we had on mental health, 50% of (1 in 2) adult Americans has a diagnosable mental disorder each year, and of those, fewer than half get help. This covers the gamut from schizophrenia, through dementia to behavioural problems, depression, anxiety etc. Half the adult population having some form of mental disorder/illness/challenge sounds pretty high to me!

    In the same lecture we were told that lifetime prevalence of depression is 10-15% in women, and 5-10% in men, meaning that over the course of their whole life, a person has that percentage chance of having at least one incident of depression. I believe the majority of these data were taken from the Surgeon General’s Report from 1999, so it’s not the MOST up to date info, but it’s from a quality source.

  14. demolitionwoman
    demolitionwoman June 24, 2008 at 6:24 pm |

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    After I read the original post about crazy as being ableist, it got me thinking (which is good). My first knee-jerk reaction was to be defensive and dismissive. When I realized I was being defensive and dismissive, I realized that it was something I needed to explore and think about more deeply. In the course of that, I had a conversation with one of my closest friends about it (he has some mental illness, and a traumatic brain injury to boot). Even just talking with him about the article, my reactions to it, his thoughts on the subject and what it feels like to him were enlightening.

    I still struggle with it/think about it, but I had a bit of a light-bulb moment when I thought about how I feel when I hear people say “that’s so gay”, when what they really mean is “that’s so stupid”. I really, really, REALLY hate that and as a homo, it pisses me right off. And if I make anyone else feel that way when I say something’s crazy…well, I don’t want to be that person.

    All of the above is just to say that I am very glad for this post and the previous ones for making me think…

  15. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne June 24, 2008 at 6:31 pm |

    Absurd? Ridiculous?

    Do those cover the level of delusion that requires a belief that bin Laden is going to conquer the United States with his non-existent army and navy?

  16. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne June 24, 2008 at 6:38 pm |

    In the same lecture we were told that lifetime prevalence of depression is 10-15% in women, and 5-10% in men, meaning that over the course of their whole life, a person has that percentage chance of having at least one incident of depression.

    Not to wander too far off-topic, but there’s some evidence that those numbers are skewed by the way depression is defined and that similar numbers of men and women suffer from at least one depressive episode. Carol Tavris covered it well in a chapter of her book The Mismeasure of Woman, but the nickel version is that the definition of depression is slanted towards “female” symptoms like crying uncontrollably. Men would not commit suicide at the rate they do if they were less prone to depression than women.

  17. Alexandra
    Alexandra June 24, 2008 at 6:43 pm |

    Not to wander too far off-topic, but there’s some evidence that those numbers are skewed by the way depression is defined and that similar numbers of men and women suffer from at least one depressive episode. Carol Tavris covered it well in a chapter of her book The Mismeasure of Woman, but the nickel version is that the definition of depression is slanted towards “female” symptoms like crying uncontrollably. Men would not commit suicide at the rate they do if they were less prone to depression than women.

    I agree with this. I’ll also note that when my father was in the depths of depression about a year ago, he became more physically violent – and since he’s been on medication, that dropped right off again. Crying is culturally kosher for women; violence is acceptable for men.

  18. A male
    A male June 24, 2008 at 6:56 pm |

    “I’m studying for a Master’s in Epidemiology, and according to a lecture we had on mental health, 50% of (1 in 2) adult Americans has a diagnosable mental disorder each year, and of those, fewer than half get help. This covers the gamut from schizophrenia, through dementia to behavioural problems, depression, anxiety etc. Half the adult population having some form of mental disorder/illness/challenge sounds pretty high to me!”

    Thank you, Rosemarie Grace, for doing a much better job of what I was going to try.

    It *sounds* high, doesn’t it? People not realizing how these factors are negatively affecting their lives, as well as many being in denial or actively avoiding seeking help due to the continued social stigma of mental disorder, are also issues. I have been explicitly been denied a federal job (TSA) for fear I cannot maintain my focus on the job (I had to disclose a diagnosis for possible ADHD upon application). My application (and conditions) have now been registered by the federal government, and available for review if I ever seek federal employment again (they ask).

    One reason for my brother’s failed marriage was his inability to pull himself together for years, after losing what he considered a really promising job in the big tech bust. Another was his girlfriend/wife marrying him and starting a family, apparently believing that this added responsibility in itself might inspire him to change. No, we now see (post divorce, living alone, though now employed) he should have been evaluated and treated.* She could have used some advice in living with his condition/their circumstances as well, as it and her frustration (perfectly understandable) seemed to be the primary strain on the marriage.

    * Of note – in my family, the only relative who was ever disclosed to have a mental disorder was permanently institutionalized in a sanitorium for tuberculosis patients about two generations ago. I do not even know this aunt’s name or what her alleged condition was. This is how powerful the stigma is in my culture and community (and family – my mother does not want me revealing my own status to anyone outside our immediate blood relations).

  19. A male
    A male June 24, 2008 at 7:08 pm |

    I am extremely sorry to hear about your father, Alexandria, and hope he/your family are receiving the proper kind of care.

    http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/men-and-depression/signs-and-symptoms-of-depression/restlessness-irritability.shtml

    http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/depression/hic_depression_in_men.aspx

    http://www.healthyplace.com/communities/depression/men_women_2.asp

    It is disturbing and problematic, to say the least, that conditions may present differently in men and women, or in people of different segments of the population. I do not wish to excuse criminal and destructive acts by men, but conditions such as depression can play a role. My own alleged depression made itself known as a general disincentive to even leave the house while I was unemployed during two periods in my life, if I had no “business” outside such as an actual job interview.

  20. Brown Shoes
    Brown Shoes June 24, 2008 at 7:19 pm |

    Do those cover the level of delusion that requires a belief that bin Laden is going to conquer the United States with his non-existent army and navy?

    How about “absurd or ridiculous beyond description” then?

  21. Betsy
    Betsy June 24, 2008 at 7:43 pm |

    Thanks, Rosemarie Grace and Mnemosyne. I feel like even if they’re not exactly accurate, those numbers do substantiate that it is, in fact, NOT a small minority of the populace. Useful to remember.

  22. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne June 24, 2008 at 7:44 pm |

    How about “absurd or ridiculous beyond description” then?

    Do those adequately express the fact that you have a person who deeply believes something that has no basis in reality but you can’t argue them out of that belief no matter how much evidence you present to the contrary? Not only that, but the person is actually making major decisions about their life based on a belief or set of beliefs that have no basis in reality?

  23. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne June 24, 2008 at 7:51 pm |

    Fun with etymology: “absurd” comes from the Latin word for “deaf.” “Ab-” is the prefix that makes it into “really deaf.”

  24. tekanji
    tekanji June 24, 2008 at 9:02 pm |

    Mnemosyne: Yes, I do describe that meaning to words like “ridiculous” and “absurd”. But if those words on their own aren’t strong enough, you can add words like “unfounded”, “ungrounded”, heck even “no basis in reality” works really well.

    Example: “Most of Malkin’s claims not only are ridiculous and have no basis in reality, but are so easily proven wrong that one has to wonder if she truly believes what she is saying, or if she is simply being a troll in order to generate controversy.”

    See? Complete and utter ridiculing of Malkin’s ridiculous arguments without using an ableist slur. It can be done.

    Also, as per the etymology, is there any evidence that the term “absurd” in English has been used in conjunction with deaf people and/or deafness?

  25. roses
    roses June 24, 2008 at 9:31 pm |

    Do those adequately express the fact that you have a person who deeply believes something that has no basis in reality but you can’t argue them out of that belief no matter how much evidence you present to the contrary?

    I feel they do, but you can always just use: “Completely disconnected from reality”.

  26. PhysioProf
    PhysioProf June 24, 2008 at 10:01 pm |

    I have decided that when I blog and comment, I will continue to use “wackaloon” and other “wack”-based terms, “depraved”, “deranged”, and “sick”, but try hard to eschew “insane”, “crazy”, “nut”-based terms, “psycho”-based terms, and “demented”. I have never used “retard”, any “tard”-based terms, “schizo”, or “bipolar”.

  27. Anna
    Anna June 24, 2008 at 10:58 pm |

    akeeyu,

    …aaaand not that there’s anything wrong with being disabled, but…

    Akeeyu, I totally hear everything you say after “but”, but this is something I really want to highlight.

    A lot of folks have a fear of disability. They have a fear of being labeled as disabled. I get that.

    But at the same time I’m really tired of seeing progressive blogs express a fear of disability while telling me that I’m wrong for being angry or irritated about it. I’d really like to go to a progressive blog and not see a fear of being disabled, a fear of being labeled disabled, being “okay”… and not seeing a lot of posts or comments thinking about ways we can remove the stigma of being labeled “disabled” or “mentally ill”, about ways of actually acting like disabled people exist and mentally ill folks are not incapable of rational thought. (I’m very mentally ill. I can still think rationally. I just don’t do it all the time.)

    Disabled does not equal “bad”. Please, please, please, everyone stop using it as a shorthand.

    I get confused because I don’t see an argument over “gay = bad”. People seem to get that, but I’m not sure why they aren’t getting this.

  28. AnonymousCoward
    AnonymousCoward June 24, 2008 at 11:43 pm |

    Roses:

    I feel they do, but you can always just use: “Completely disconnected from reality”.

    So… we’re supposed to call them schizophrenic? This is better than the generic “crazy” how, exactly? Or does the act of leaving unstated the fact that schizophrenia *is* the state of being disconnected from reality in some fundamental way cleanse the speaker of some linguistic sin?

    In honor of George Carlin’s death, let’s give this a whirl: instead of attaching mystic significance to words, whether they be “fuck” or “crazy,” let’s concern ourselves with the ideas they express.

    For instance:
    Tekanji suggests the alternative -

    “Most of Malkin’s claims not only are ridiculous and have no basis in reality, but are so easily proven wrong that one has to wonder if she truly believes what she is saying, or if she is simply being a troll in order to generate controversy.”

    So instead of simply saying that Malkin might be “crazy,” it’s suggested that one say “[her claims] have no basis in reality . . . [and] she truly believes what she is saying.” Of course, if someone were to believe things that have no basis in reality, they’re disconnected from reality in some fundamental sense. And if you’re calling someone “disconnected from reality in some fundamental sense,” you’re calling them “schizophrenic,” whether you say so or not. The only difference is that now you’re making yourself feel better because you’ve obscured the real meaning.

    I also can’t help but wonder why Axis II mental illnesses are excluded from this analysis – how is using “narcissistic” as an insult (referring to Narcissistic Personality Disorder) any better than using “crazy”? Also – how come “idiot” and “moron” aren’t seen as insults based on mental health? Why are words in the “loon” family acceptable? What about “imbecile?” Hell… “incompetent” could be seen as just as ableist, or perhaps moreso, than “crazy”, since “incompetent” is a legal and medical term with real impact and weight.

    If you don’t treat words as mystic symbols that exist in their own right, but rather as the vehicles for expression, you don’t run into these sort of problems.

  29. Kay Olson
    Kay Olson June 25, 2008 at 12:59 am |

    Anna: Yes. Thank you.

  30. Kay Olson
    Kay Olson June 25, 2008 at 1:01 am |

    Also – how come “idiot” and “moron” aren’t seen as insults based on mental health? Why are words in the “loon” family acceptable? What about “imbecile?”

    Many people do avoid these terms for the same reason they don’t use “retard”.

  31. octogalore
    octogalore June 25, 2008 at 2:08 am |

    Natalia, great post. I think your’e right — “The word becomes problematic when used to dehumanize people who suffer from disorders and afflictions.” It’s all in the context. If it could be construed as this kind of context, it’s inappropriate ranging up to cruel.

    If you tell a friend “that’s a crazy idea,” not a problem I think. Or even: “call him AGAIN, are you crazy?” in the friend context. Once it gets away from a clear call, a little care with words doesn’t seem too much to ask or expect.

  32. akeeyu
    akeeyu June 25, 2008 at 2:57 am |

    Anna, I totally hear you, but if I am not disabled by my mental illness, is it still a disability? Also, after you say “A lot of folks have a fear of disability,” is there any way a person can say “No, seriously, I’m not disabled,” without sounding like an asshole?

    I know people who are disabled by mental illness. It’s not a personal failing, it just is what it is. I get that. It’s just that I don’t believe that all mental illness = disability.

  33. noen
    noen June 25, 2008 at 4:30 am |

    I wonder as to why I have psychological problems. Was I “meant” to have them? No, that would imply there is someone to give them to you. You suffer from PSTD and I with depression, because things happened which caused us to suffer a mental illness.

    The word “crazy” is pretty judgmental but context and intent matter so focusing only on the word misses the point. If we want something from someone, or think we are likely to, we should not use negative, judgmental words. One can be critical without being hurtful.

    I also think that we should not use judgmental language when we refer to ourselves. Calling yourself “crazy” only validates your own negative self judgment. It hurts you. Don’t do that.

  34. Anna
    Anna June 25, 2008 at 7:46 am |

    TBH, akeeyu, I don’t think all mental illness = disability, either.

    But I’m not in any rush to come out as mentally ill on my blog, either. Cuz I’m already struggling to convince my ‘friends’ that guess what? It’s totally okay to write a blog that’s about women! No really, it is! They already dismiss half of what I say because I’m obviously out to overthrow the government and replace it with a rule by women. If I had “also, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness” I can be as dismissed as I am when I talk about rape as a someone who has been raped. I’m obviously too close to the subject matter, don’tcha know.

    Sadly and irritatingly, having a mental illness is a stigma, which is why, I think, Tekanji and others call mocking people’s mental states as ablist.

  35. Nick Kiddle
    Nick Kiddle June 25, 2008 at 9:28 am |

    I also think that we should not use judgmental language when we refer to ourselves. Calling yourself “crazy” only validates your own negative self judgment. It hurts you. Don’t do that.

    But who gets to define what is “judgmental language”? Is it bad for me to call myself “queer” or “tranny”? Most people find queer acceptable as a self-definition, so what’s the distinction between that and “crazy”?

    I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that naming our issues is negative self-talk, because sometimes that can just feed the stigma further. I’m thinking of incidents like the friend who, when I said I was “finally getting help with my mental health issues” responded “Honey, you don’t have mental health issues” under the impression that this was a supportive and reassuring thing to say.

  36. noen
    noen June 25, 2008 at 9:34 am |

    “No, it doesn’t hurt me. And yes, I will continue doing it. It’s one way I have of dealing with the problem”

    It’s not very effective though. Whenever one engages in negative self-talk all you are doing is perpetuating your image of yourself as being “crazy”. The narratives that we have of ourselves structure how we relate to the world. If you want to change that you have to change the script.

  37. noen
    noen June 25, 2008 at 10:04 am |

    But who gets to define what is “judgmental language”? Is it bad for me to call myself “queer” or “tranny”?

    Intent matters, so it’s going to depend quite a lot on the context. Words themselves are neither good nor bad, it isn’t black or white, they are simply more or less effective at what we want them to do. Giving a name to things isn’t the problem. We can’t identify them in the first place if we don’t have names for them. But attaching a negative label to ourselves or to someone else affects how we relate to that person. If that’s not working out maybe one should try something else.

  38. punkrockhockeymom
    punkrockhockeymom June 25, 2008 at 12:59 pm |

    Noen #37:

    Well, I don’t know if I agree that it’s not effective (how could I? how would I know?) and I don’t agree that calling yourself “crazy” is always negative self-talk.

    I mean, first, you can’t say with that kind of certainty that any coping mechanism Natalia employs is not very effective. Unless I’m completely in the dark and have missed some huge off-line relationship, you don’t know her, you’re not treating her. Many coping mechanisms can be simultaneously very effective and not great for you. And that one, really, depending on the way Natalia her own self internalizes and contextualizes the language–well, really, I don’t think you could universalize and even assert it’s negative, much less that it’s not effective. It might not be negative self-talk; I mean, unless you buy in to the very thing we’re supposed to be discussing here–”crazy” = “bad”–it could actually be positive self-talk, depending on the context Natalia uses it in toward herself.

    For me (I have PTSD and anxiety disorder, being treated (finally!) with various brands of therapies), there actually is a useful connotation in my head from addressing certain of my feelings and behaviors as crazy. It’s not negative. It’s positive. Because, see, the feelings and behaviors I apply that label to toward myself (i.e, “Oh! This is me being crazy!”) are all feelings and behaviors that I used to think were me being, you know, a worthless and sort of evil, nasty human being. Or, you know, selfish. Or disorganized. Non-functioning. Lacking in intellect and ability in my chosen profession. Bratty. Lacking in character. Completely within my control and completely my own damned fault. BAD.

    Now, after some months of treatment, I can identify certain feelings and strains as being unrelated to the moment I’m experiencing, and instead related to the PTSD and resultant anxiety disorder. And so before I act on them (by lashing out, or by yelling, telling someone off, crawling under the desk, refusing to get out of bed, staring off into space for 2 hours, etc.), I can tell myself, “This isn’t about now, what you’re feeling here. This is your crazy. File it away for your next appointment. Take some deep breaths and get back to work.”

    And sometimes, that even works. It usually doesn’t make the feelings go away, but sometimes it does. AND it usually does keep me from, say, screaming at one of my bosses in front of the whole staff. This is progress. My therapist sees it’s progress. Because I’m identifying it not as something bad or negative self-talk, but instead as something relating to an illness (my crazy) that’s being treated. When I call myself “crazy,” I’m not negative self-talking, I’m positively owning an illness. And then it’s not about something that is me and my character being full of suck, but me being sick.

    I don’t know if that makes any sense. But when I use “crazy” toward myself, it’s been in an empowering and positive way, to help myself stop hating myself so much and to help myself stop acting out on something that has nothing to do with the actual situation I’m in.

  39. punkrockhockeymom
    punkrockhockeymom June 25, 2008 at 1:00 pm |

    Whoops with the tags, all. That was messy!

  40. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne June 25, 2008 at 1:16 pm |

    It’s not very effective though. Whenever one engages in negative self-talk all you are doing is perpetuating your image of yourself as being “crazy”.

    You say that like being crazy is a bad thing.

    No, seriously. You’re taking a word that has been at least halfway destigmatized (when you say you went to a “crazy” party, was it a bad party?) and trying to stuff it back into being strictly a negative word.

    To me, deciding that “crazy” is a bad and ableist word is like deciding that “gay” is a bad and homophobic word and trying to convince people that they need to stop using it. It’s developed enough additional and alternate meanings that trying to insist that the only meaning it has is a negative one is ridiculous.

    Just to be clear, I fully agree that words that refer to specific illnesses (bipolar, schizo(phrenia), psycho(tic)) should never be used as anything other than descriptors of those illnesses. But you will never get me to stop referring to myself as crazy, for all of the reasons punkrockhockeymom spelled out and more.

    Don’t tell me, the person who’s crazy, that I’m not allowed to use the word. Fuck you.

  41. Anna
    Anna June 25, 2008 at 1:33 pm |

    I was thinking about this today during lunch in terms of the “Mad Pride” movement (has that been mentioned in the comments yet? I think I’m caught up, but I may have missed it) that seems to me to be about not only accepting “crazy” but embracing the label and admitting that being mentally ill/crazy is okay.

    It reminds me a bit of the Fat Acceptance movement where the people I’m aware of treat fat as a descriptive term rather than as a perjorative that includes “lazy and stupid” implied.

    So (I am thinking) I’m crazy. There’s nothing inheritently wrong with saying that, nor is there anything wrong with saying I’m fat.

    But people who say “that person over there spouting homophobic nonsense is crazy” associates crazy with “things that I disagree with”, just like that person who called me a fat freak wasn’t doing it because I’m awesome but because to him fat is bad and calling me fat is a great insult.

    Destigmitizing a word is a difficult and uphill battle. I remember Kate describing someone in a MSM article as “fat” and people freaking out because fat is a perjorative, and she was confused because she uses fat to mean, well, someone who is fat. Not “fat = bad”.

    What this all means to me (in my rambling way) is that getting away from the stigma and abuse of mental and physical disability is a two-fold process. First, I think, it would be embracing the terms and using them to self-describe. “Well, of course I’m crazy!” (And treating ourselves accordingly – like others here I remind myself that my judgement is either occasionally or frequently compromised.)

    The other is to stop using crazy as an attack. “That guy is crazy with his homophobia!” isn’t really embracing the idea that crazy doesn’t mean bad.

    Or, I could be talking out of my ass. It was a very pleasant lunch that involved chocolate.

  42. noen
    noen June 25, 2008 at 3:38 pm |

    The post is about the use of “crazy” and the question “is it ableist” to use it. My point has been to sidestep the ableist question and assert pragmatic realities. It is, generally speaking, not a good idea to label oneself or others with negative, judgmental words or phrases. It’s counter productive in the long run. Many people, myself included, developed survival strategies for coping in our family of origin. As we get older they don’t work as well. That is when it might be time to consider different strategies. “Crazy” very likely is on the borderline, I don’t think it is always a negative word, but it can be depending how it is used.

    But you don’t know if that’s effective or not.

    Actually I do. It’s backed up with solid research. Google Marsha Linehan.

  43. noen
    noen June 25, 2008 at 7:35 pm |

    Natalia, I’m not telling you anything like that. I don’t know why you think I am. I’m saying that, in general, negative self talk like “I’m just crazy” only serves to keep us stuck where we are. A better, and more effective approach is to replace those negative tapes with more positive ones. This is not guesswork. It is backed up with research in cognitive behavioral therapy. Sort of like how I know that eating fruits and veggies is better for you than fast food.

  44. noen
    noen June 26, 2008 at 12:49 pm |

    I never “told” you what to do, it was merely a suggestion and I’ve been careful throughout to speak in third person generalities and not in specifics. “it’s a word that means many things.” Sure it does, so does cripple. It also has some neutral uses but the most common are negative. Both cripple and crazy are words that most people are going to take as negative judgments about others or oneself.

    Both cripple and crazy are abelist terms and I would have said the same things about someone who referred to themselves as “I’m just a cripple”. I would also have said to that person that your negative self talk is limiting you. It tends to keep you where you are, dependent on others for assistance. “But” such a person might reply, “It’s how I cope, don’t tell me what to do.” True, but a better, more effective and ultimately more satisfying coping mechanism would be to change your language to give oneself positive messages. This will have an effect one ones quality of life. The choice is up to you.

    The way that our brains work is that words are seen by the subconscious as indications of what it should be doing. So when someone says to another person or to themselves, “You’re just a cripple” it says “Oh, we’re feeling ashamed right now” and goes into it’s file system and brings up all the negative images it has associated with being disabled and feeling ashamed. That is why people have decided it’s a good idea not to use certain words. They hurt others and ourselves.

    There is an Institute for the Blind near where I live and we also have many folk in various wheelchairs and they all end up on the street around here. I don’t help them unless they ask or are in dire need. It would be disrespectful to do otherwise.

    You’re not crazy Natalia, there is no such thing.

  45. Rosemary Grace
    Rosemary Grace June 26, 2008 at 1:04 pm |

    Coming back to this post way late.

    Mnemosyne at #16:

    the definition of depression is slanted towards “female” symptoms like crying uncontrollably. Men would not commit suicide at the rate they do if they were less prone to depression than women.

    Absolutely. I added the stats to emphasize that mental health issues are not at all rare, they’re taboo, and often unrecognized/undiagnosed. I think there are a lot of problems with current diagnostic criteria being based on only one gender or one races presentation. This applies to physical conditions as well (for example: filipinos have a very high rate of Type 2 Diabetes, but they do not have an accompanying high rate of overweight/obesity).

    There was an article on the Mind Hacks blog recently that brought up the role of cultural conditioning in trauma and PTSD: part of what makes an experience “traumatic” rather than bad, but non-scarring, is the personality and beliefs of the person experiencing the trauma. Not to say that trauma is “all in your head” and therefore not really a problem, it’s more that it’s such a difficult thing to treat/identify/prevent because it’s so deeply personal, and can be affected by cultural conditioning.

    For example: walking d

  46. Rosemary Grace
    Rosemary Grace June 26, 2008 at 1:11 pm |

    (HAH – my cat just hit post by sitting on the laptop)

    For example: walking down a hallway at a university and glancing into a classroom to see an anatomy class in the middle of dissecting a several human cadavers may well be deeply scarring (especially if it’s unexpected) to a lot of people for various reasons. To me, since I know my office is next to the anatomy classrooms, it’s business as usual, though I might go tell the class technicians they forgot to put the privacy screens in front of the doors again.

  47. noen
    noen June 26, 2008 at 5:33 pm |

    The drive-by mental health mommying may be done with the best intentions

    I’m sorry if that’s how I came across. I didn’t mean to.

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