Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The "C" Word

If you have yet to guess by the general theme of my blog, the "c word' I'm talking about is the ever popular "crazy".  It's one of those words that has become common place and in some contexts, completely harmless. For instance: "How was that party last night?" "Oh it was crazy, there must have been 100 people there. I had a blast." In this case, clearly the person is using the word to mean busy, fun, popular, etc. I'll fully admit, I've used it in this sense as well, and when others do, it doesn't bother me at all. In fact, this gives it a rather positive emphasis.

However, I also hear it all too often in reference someone who isn't acting the way others believe they should. Probably against social convention and certainly not in the way the person speaking would act, or at least not the way they perceive themselves acting. For instance, I recently heard someone describing an ex-girlfriend as such:  "oh you and Mary (made up name) broke up?" "Yeah man she was crazy! I couldn't handle it." And I'm making this more appropriate for blog purposes than it actually was. I believe there were some choice words in the reply that I'd rather not add.  Now, there are three possibilities that I can envision here.

 1.) The guy just didn't think the way Mary was acting was "appropriate" and because it wasn't to his standards of "normal" behavior, he called her crazy. This is probably most likely.

2.) Mary actually had a mental health condition that the guy knew about, and he's using it as a slam against her. This is also possible but doesn't make the guy's response any more likable in my eyes because he's making a massive generalization about mental health and furthering the stigma.

3.) Mary actually was committed to a psychiatric hospital for life and he didn't know how else to describe it or doesn't want to admit this about his former girl, so just uses the term that he thinks is agreeable with his friend. This is clearly the least likely solution, and still not particularly ok. It's still putting a really negative connotation on mental health in general, and not a very nice thing to say at all about someone if they really are that ill.

Do you see a pattern? In none of these situations is "crazy" really acceptable. Now, if he'd said "that girl was crazy cool and I just wasn't worthy so she broke up with me",  perhaps I'd be ok with it. Again, it's a positive emphasis instead of negative. But clearly, that's not what he's saying here. Now, to be clear, I'm not picking on men. I was just relating an actual conversation I  heard. I had to bite my tongue not to say something smart-assy. He probably would have just called me crazy anyways, so it wouldn't have done any good.

Here's the thing about "crazy." Research shows that between 20 and 25 percent of the American population has a mental health condition. If you count disorders recently added to the new DSM V, such as addictive disorders, that number jumps up to almost one-third of the population, according to studies. That means one in three people in the US has a mental health condition. By "Bob Smith's" (made up name) likely definition of crazy above, one third of all Americans are crazy. To me, that's either highly unlikely, or means that there is clearly something wrong with life as we live it in the US. Because under no circumstances should one third of your country's residents be "crazy".

Yes, those of us with a mental health condition may act differently than the "average" person (who is that person anyway?). Yes, we may have mood swings or be more anxious or over-react at times. We may get depressed. We may approach life from a different perspective than the general population tells us we should. This doesn't make us crazy. It makes us unique. It allows us to see things from a different angle. Our brains may work in a spectrum that others have trouble reaching. Sure, that angle, that spectrum, might be more emotional at times. But does being more emotional or more anxious really hurt anybody? Is it crazy? In the past, I spent a lot of time around people in very "logical" fields of work, who seem to be so logical that they couldn't express emotion even in situations where it was warranted - like in their relationships and with their families. Yet nobody calls that crazy. Why is one "extreme" crazy and the other not?

So please, don't call me crazy. Or delusional. Or any other crazy-like term. Just because I don't think of things the way you do, it doesn't mean there's something "wrong' with me. Because, quite simply, there are no rules on how to think. Good and bad, right and wrong, they're judgements. They're opinions. They may be widely held opinions and judgements, but they still aren't facts. And if you think that society's opinion is an appropriate marker of judgement, just remember...  this is the same society whose most popular halloween costume a couple of years ago was that of Snooki. I may be off base here, but I'm not entirely sure our population has a great grasp on "normal".  


  1. Today I was looking at a 1925 census card for my great grandmother and among the boxes that they had to check off there were deaf, blind, insane and idiot...so things are getting better. Seriously, though, much has been written about the topic you are describing, but the short summary is that my putting labels or names on people, it is a way for "normal" people to separate themselves off from people they consider different from them rather than looking at human diversity as the continuum that it is. No easy answers.

    1. Yes, I completely agree. I suppose I'd rather be crazy than an idiot or insane. I think the labels foster a view of "better" or "worse", "good" or "bad". In reality, we're all unique - even identical twins who come from exactly the same genetics. While there may be some basics that I think the general population may consider good or bad - ie murder and rape are generally perceived as bad - it's something I try to avoid overall. Labeling people simply because they're not like you just furthers the stigma. I'll admit that I've used the word crazy in casual conversation, like the party example above, and I've even joked about myself with that, but it was more in positive light. But I won't use it to describe someone in a negative because they don't act or see things the way I see them.