Saturday, May 1, 2010

Railing Against the "C" Word: Crazy

This is a difficult post for me. Not because I am conflict adverse because I have a residual need for approval. Please like me. Please love me. Whatever you feel, please do not be silent. I cannot abide by it.

One of the people on Twitter whom I respect the most used the "c" word in a post and it made me uncomfortable. No, not that "c" word. The other "c" word: crazy. It's one thing when that word is applied to a situation or ideas, but quite different when applied to a person. "Crazy" and words hinting at someone with poor mental health are tossed around to discredit someone. I am particularly sensitive to the use or misuse of this word because it's been applied to me or insinuated about me for most of my life.

I am not MissShuganah for nothing. Yes, it's a joke name, but it also is my way of turning that label into something positive. My dad used to push my buttons and then freak out when I would get all angry and upset and demand an apology from him. He would say to my mother, "get that mad bulldog away from me." That would have been unforgivable if he hadn't had many, many, many redeeming qualities. What I didn't understand then was that my father was already starting to sink into a dementia related to his Parkinson's. In those moments he was not himself. Or, perhaps, in some ways, he was more himself. They say that when a person has dementia they resort back to their more base personality. In either case I prefer to remember the man who taught me how to be an honest, ethical, compassionate human being. Every day my critieria is: Can I look at myself in the mirror? At the end of each day, I hope the answer is yes, but I am fairly certain I often fall short of the mark.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, it should not surprise you to know that I think the world of Ira Socol. An Apple for Mr. SocolEver since I have appeared on Twitter, he has been a good, strong supportive ally. One of the reasons I respect him so much is because I know that he's overcome so many obstacles to get where he is now -- just a few months away from being Dr. Socol. I also know that, as a writer, Ira, like me, is sensitive to language. He is aware of many nuances. All the more reason why it surprised me to read: "OK, easy target. This guy is pretty crazy..." in what is otherwise yet another fine post, Now, granted, it's not the same as saying to someone's face, "You are crazy." So why even bring this up? Because it's still a way to discredit. We don't know this man, but hearing a phrase like, "this guy is crazy," already prejudices us against him. We are prepared to dislike him. More than that. We are prepared to doubt his veracity. And therein lies the problem.

If a typically thoughtful man like Ira Socol is inclined to label someone as "crazy," then imagine what rhetorical violence is done every day in both the virtual and real world. I am not sure if the solution is to ban the "c" word, crazy, as we strive to ban the "r" word, retarded, but I feel that people need to be educated about this all the same. Casting aspersions about someone's mental health is just as damaging as suggesting they are not all mentally present or complete. More so, I would suggest, because a mentally handicapped person might be accepted in society, but a mentally unhealthy person is a frightening prospect. Conjures up images of a person ranting on the subway. People won't necessarily move away from the mentally handicapped individual, but they most definitely will from someone they perceive to be mentally unstable. Entirely understandable. No one wants to put themselves in danger. And, so, if someone is referred to as "crazy" they are automatically assumed to be someone who lacks judgment and character.

There's a huge difference between someone having an opinion you disagree with or don't respect, and someone who really is mentally ill. No one deserves that lobbed at them, no matter how distasteful a person they may be. Stepping back and letting a person to destroy their own credibility is one thing. Calling them "crazy" on the onset is quite another. And so I ask all of you reading this to please think next time you are inclined to refer to someone as "crazy." Just as with the "r" word, we, as a society, have become desensitized to using the "c" word as well. We all need to consider the impact of labels we use.


  1. Wow, what a wonderful post that will make us all reconsider the power of the words we utter in words and in writing. Thank you for sharing your story. It takes courage to stand up and speak, especially when you are speaking about someone you think highly of. And Ira has class as well for tweeting this and referring us here to read your work. Thank you both.

  2. Glad you came by. Because Ira is a class act, I felt I could trust he would take this post in the spirit in which it was intended. Even so, I did several gut checks to make sure I wasn't overreacting.

  3. We had a Disabilities Awareness Day at my school a few weeks back (@irasocol was guest speaker via Skype.) It was a powerful day where many students began to realize the power of their words. I am realizing now that we did a lot about the power of the "r" word but nigh unto nothing about the "c" word. Thanks for the memo!

  4. Glad you had a Disability Awareness Day. If you ever want me to Skype in, I'd be willing to that.

    When we talk about disabilities, we talk about mentally and physically handicapped but not about stigmas of depression and other mental illnesses.