Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Being "Crazy"

As an addendum to my last post, I'm really sick of reading/ hearing "well, I don't think of insane or crazy being ableist words and I (or my friend, parent, whatever) have clinical depression." This isn't a topic I've discussed openly much, if ever, so bear with me.

Depression has its own stigma, people who are depressed are thought of as weak, they should "just get over it and be happy," or are told its "just a case of the blues." I don't want to suggest that depression isn't a real disease or minimize it in any way, but it's not the kind of mental illness that people are referring to when they use the word "crazy."

Crazy is something altogether different. Crazy is delusion, psychosis, mania, schizophrenia. Insanity, in the depths of society's psyche, is jabbering in tongues rocking back and forth in a padded room. It can't be trusted. It is the serial killer, the mother who kills her children, the man who laughs while committing the most vile crimes - this is what "crazy" conjures up in the minds of the general public.

This terror, this nightmare looming in the dark places of our collective consciousness is harmful. Incredibly so. It means that people who are not neurotypical are stuck with the paradoxical choice of lying or being mistrusted. Perhaps more importantly, it makes us less likely to seek help when it is needed. It took me years to admit, even to myself, that my brain was fundamentally different than most. Because I didn't want to be crazy.

I still don't. I'm terrified of the psychotic break that I am 30 - 50% more likely than others to have, even though I know that it would probably be manageable if it were to happen. I don't generally share the fact of my mental illness with others, even with those I am close to. Admitting who I am is risking ever being trusted or taken seriously again. The reason for this is "crazy."


  1. I definitely recognize "crazy," etc. as ableist language and have been encouraging others to do the same as my own mental health becomes more difficult to maintain. How do you feel about the reclamation of "crazy," similar to the way the fat acceptance/HAES movement has moved to reclaim "fat" or some women move to relcaim "bitch"? As my anxiety disorder & depression have become harder to manage, I've been trying to reclaim "crazy" as a way of maintaining control. Do you think only people with mania or schizophrenia should be "allowed" to reclaim it?

  2. I think what you're saying is completely unfair. It sounds to me like you are saying people with depression have it easier. People who have suffered from serious depression have the right to identify as a mental illness sufferer just as much as you are. I see you enforcing a hierarchy of oppression.

  3. shutupmonica & FISH:

    As I stated at the beginning of this post I did not in any way intend to minimize the reality of living with depression. My mother has clinical depression and an anxiety disorder, they are very real and can be very difficult. I did not say, and never meant to imply, that depression is not a real or serious mental illness, and am very sorry if that is the impression I have given.

    I had no intention of telling people how they should self identify. This post was written in response to a specific trend that I have seen of people using depression as a way to avoid owning their ableism. It was less about the reality of living with a mental illness than about the way that " crazy" is used in our current language.

    In my experience "crazy," particularly when used in a derogatory fashion, does not really refer to depression. It does not refer to the reality of most mental illness, but instead to a boogeyman composed of the worst stereotypes of of psychosis, mania, schizophrenia, etc.

    Do I think this is right? Of course not. That was my point. It's just that the way in which depression is stigmatized is different, although equally harmful.

    As far as reclaiming goes, I have no real objection. Presumably the fact that people are actively attempting to reclaim a word means that the recognize the problems with standard usage. It's lack of recognition for those problems that I was objecting to, not people with depression using the word in a well thought out manner.

  4. Hmm, this is interesting. It makes me conscious of the fact that I use the term "crazy" to talk about my own depression all the time. (like, "Time to take my crazy pill!")

    I think you're right, that I say that in order to minimize what depression is by setting up an immediate "worse" counter-point.

    It's probably time for me to retire that.