TRIGGER WARNING: ableism, saneism
OK, so when people say the word “crazy,” they can mean a lot of things. They can mean impossible, weird, silly, inappropriate, extreme, inconceivable, bizarre, ridiculous, stupid, inadvisable, and wild, among other things. Sometimes, even, they mean “mentally ill.” But not usually. Can you imagine how that would sound?
“Hey, did you go dancing last night?”
“Yeah, totally, it was so mentally ill!”
It’s usually not the meaning people are going for.
But when people use that word, “crazy,” and don’t mean mentally ill, many different things happen. They are, of course, implying that mental illness, and/or mentally ill people, might be impossible, weird, silly, inappropriate, extreme, inconceivable, bizarre, ridiculous, stupid, inadvisable, and wild, among other things (or that they do things that have those adjectives). That in itself is otherizing, insulting, and just plain saneist.
It is comparable to using words like “lame,” “gay,” and “retarded” out of context. Of course, there are differences. But many people throw these words around, and when it is brought to their attention, they say, “Oh, but I didn’t mean it like that.” When I called my THERAPIST out on using the word “crazy” in an inappropriate context, she said something along the lines of, “I like to use that word in all its contexts, but I’ll keep it in mind that you don’t like to use it.” Any provider using this word really needs to check themselves. Everyone should check themselves, but, come on, mental health providers, you are a breed of ill repute, but even you should know better than to throw this word (and its cousins, “insane,” “mad,” and “nutty”) out there out of contexts. Your clients might IDENTIFY as crazy! I do, sometimes.
When we use the word crazy in this way, we can easily alienate people who have mental illnesses, whether or not they use that word to describe themselves. Don’t do that, folks. We already have enough alienation as it is.
There is another piece that happens, though. Not only are we ostracizing people with mental illnesses, we are also ostracizing whatever it is we call crazy. We are dividing it out, marking it as something that is not only all the other aforementioned adjectives, but also as something that is not worth listening to, is not worth our consideration, just as we mark people with mental illnesses as not worth our consideration. Craziness exists as an outcast of society. We draw a line, and on one side exists “crazy,” and on the other exists the “sane,” “civilized” world. Whenever we call anybody or anyone crazy, they are pushed over that line.
When we call things or people crazy in this insincere, inaccurate sense, then we are putting them over that line. We are putting them out of reasonable reach. We are saying that there are certain items, behaviors, or people that are not worth taking seriously.
The threat of being called crazy holds us captive in “sane” behavior all of the time. Whether it’s not admitting our true emotions, pretending to hold it together when really it’s taking a toll on us, or whether it’s simply that we want to physically move around more or in different ways than our years of schooling and societal expectation have allowed. Have you ever noticed that young children who are typically sane and neurotypical still have more leeway than sane and neurotypical adults in terms of their behavior? They can say wackier things and move their bodies around in ways that would be considered crazy for adults. There is still a line for children, but the line is different. It encompasses more. The fact that this line shifts for different age groups shows how constructed the idea of “sane” behavior is.
When we say the word “crazy,” we are limiting not only others. We are limiting ourselves. We are saying what behavior seems too fantastical or bizarre to exist in our polite society. We are not only refusing to love everyone in this world—we are, in many ways, holding back love for ourselves.
Of course, it’s much harder to hide a psychiatric or emotional disability than it is to hide the daily things that sane people are tasked with controlling for the sake of appearing more sane. “Passing” as sane is both a privilege and something that takes a deep toll. But, while it’s clearly harder for people who do experience mental illness, using the word “crazy” deeply affects us all.
Unless someone describes themselves as “crazy” as part of their identity as a person with mental illness, don’t use that language. Practice loving yourself and the world in a huge, hugging embrace. Give space for everyone just to be. Saneism takes its toll on everyone, albeit in different ways and extremes, and refraining from using “crazy” is a big place to start.