Thursday, June 3, 2010

Is "Crazy" Appropriate? Yes, You Say.

What's in a name? queried The Bard. The rose was the object of his discussion, but here we're talking crazy. Throughout May, on Knowledge is Necessity, I ran a reader poll. The question was simple:

Crazy: Your Take.

57 readers responded. Of these, a quarter of you (14) replied that "the term is highly stigmatic." This was the smallest group in the survey. A much larger group, more than four in ten (25) let me know that "it's better to be crazy than an asshole," while three in ten (18) informed me, "screw being PC. You should see me when I'm crazy."

The major surprise was that to the overwhelming majority of you, the C-word does not equate to the N-word. Or maybe it does to a lot of you but only some of the time. It's all about context, and had I provided the option my guess is a lot of you would have checked off all three answers.

I for one lean strongly on the side of "screw being PC." I have also used the phrase in conversation, "better to be crazy than an asshole." But I'm also on record as having rebuked Oprah in a blog for inappropriate use of the term.

A time and a place for everything. When someone uses the term to differentiate us vs them, I would say that "crazy" is entirely inappropriate. But it's not the word that's offensive to me; it's the hate and ignorance behind the word. "Isosceles triangle" applied with the same venom or lack of regard would be equally repugnant.

"Crazy" is also a matter of perspective. A brilliant idea of mine, for instance, might be viewed by others as crazy. Sometimes they're right. But often they fail to see over their limited horizons. Nevertheless, on occasion, I have been known to sail off the edge of the world. Call me crazy.

One twist to this is there are occasions when crazy is normal. Our brains were built to over-react to abnormal situations. Even "normal" people are entitled to go crazy every once in a while. Sometimes, though, our behavior is just plain - well - crazy. Got a better word for it?

My diagnosis happens to be bipolar, which I interpret to mean that I am prone to crazy behavior if I'm not careful. In this sense, crazy is not part of the true me. I'm basically a decent person, thank God, not an asshole.

But in another sense, crazy is the true me, the good and the bad. It is part of my "normal" behavior. The "good" crazy (my creativity, sense of humor, etc) I take pride in, but I also have to come to terms with my "bad" crazy. It's hardly the only word by which I choose to define myself, but it is one of the words. So screw the PC thought police. They are not going to take away my identity. They are not going to choose how I am supposed to define myself.

So, like most of you, I do not object to the word crazy. In fact, I would prefer people call me crazy. What really gets my goat is when people refer to me by clinical terms. I used to hear "grandiose" back in the old days. This was when I was a nobody with the crazy idea of making a living writing about my illness. Once, of course, I became a somebody (with a book and a major international award), I had to be a "narcissist" (or "arrogant" to people who couldn't spell narcissist). With certain people, you just can't win.

"Hypomanic" is sometimes fine with me, but the term is frequently misapplied to those of us who are simply in a very good mood (or the flip side, justifiably angry). I once emailed a friend with fantastic personal news. Instead of congratulating me, she cautioned that I was hypomanic. Well 'scuse me for breathing. I didn't realize being happy was a diagnosis.

I trust, judging by your responses, we're mostly in accord here. The C-word does not equate to the N-word, but there are certain situations when it can. Certainly there are far more insulting words (such as misapplied clinical terms). Maybe we're not thoroughly comfortable with being called crazy, but we know it's a lot better than having to deal with being an asshole or worse.

In the final analysis, the real answer is taking the time to listen to one other, taking the trouble to get to know each other. Then the correct words follow. "Crazy" may be one of them.


Gina Pera said...

Your timing is uncanny, John.

I just wrote "Crazy. Crazy. Crazy." in response to a HuffPo post on Sarin Palin blaming the BP spill-baby-spill on environmentalists. Then I wondered who might be offended. I hope not you, John, or your readers.

It seems that I never use the term to describe "positive" aspects of, shall we call it, dysregulation. That is outrageous humor, shocking ideas, convention turned on its head, etc.

I use it when I need to draw a line against dangerous-to-all aberration.

Interesting post. Thanks.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Gina. Crazy is entirely too mild a term for Sarah Palin, Fox News, Republicans in Congress, and all their supporter - either to describe them as people or their activities. Not one of them thinks with their brain. Or they cynically pander to those who don't. I favor nutjob, douche bag, and un-American.

Un-American is also far too mild a term. Blocking health care reform year after year has killed way more Americans than El Qaeda ever did. And "drill, baby, drill" has clearly resulted in far more devastation to our shores than any foreign enemy has ever inflicted.

As descriptors go, I think Swift came closest: "the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth."

Don't get me started. :)

Dawn said...

Dawn the Artist here to say, I have often heard "you're crazy", and very few people know of my official diagnosis. Mostly, humor, shocking ideas, and a willingness to look foolish are all part of why I have heard it. Also, a willingness to state what appears to me to be obvious,(and often true) has sometimes had me labeled. I am less concerned with crazy, more distrustful w/ the word bipolar.

On another note John, I would like to hear about the "spiritual conversation about mental illness."

John McManamy said...

Hey, Dawn. I think you nailed it with "willingness" - both in regard to willing to look foolish and state the obvious. We don't always choose to hide our feelings or beliefs. We put it right out there.

Based on that, maybe we can redefine "normal" as "not having the guts to be crazy." You really got me thinking here ...

Re more on "spiritual conversation about mental illness," yes, definitely more of it. I'm looking forward to where the conversation will take me.

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