Call me “Crazy”.
I suffer from several mental illnesses. Alcoholism, depression. Whatever leads me to cut myself. An eating disorder. Medical diagnoses that, in a simpler time, might simply have had me labeled “drunk”, “crazy”, “hysterical”, or “unstable”. “Neurotic”. Now, those older terms are out of favor, and medical terms are in, with the idea that this provides me some protections. I’m not simply defective, I’m ill. And as such, we should remove the stigma of these pejorative terms. Furthermore, we should never use those terms to describe anyone at all, because it might imply some judgement against people like me, who did not choose to be this way.
Now these words are considered “offensive”. I am supposed to be angry that someone would judge me for my condition. I am supposed to be defensive, in response to offensiveness, and lash back against someone who would condemn me. I am especially supposed to be offended because I am in remission from mental illness. And being in remission, I should not be subject to even reasonable precautions taken with the actively mentally ill. So stigmas against me are particularly unjust!
I am reminded of the great piece about language by George Carlin, in which he suggests that more soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder might be helped if it were still called “Shell Shock.”
The academic and political distortion of language to the tyrant of offense is appalling. Of course one should not offend people deliberately to no purpose. And of course we should pay attention to how others respond and be sensitive to how our language impacts them. But too many of us have wax-paper skin, torn on the first rough word.
I am tired of being told what words I am supposed to be offended by. In AA, many of us deliberately choose words like “insane”, “crazy”, and “drunk”. Simple, plain words that describe how we interact with the world. And if someone tries to use those words to hurt me, you know, maybe they’ll succeed. But if someone wants to hurt me, using softer words won’t soften that intent.
Feel free to call me “crazy”. “Mentally ill” is not any better. It’s not your words that hurt, it’s your meaning. And that meaning will assign itself to the new vocabulary in due course. And if you don’t mean to hurt, using the “wrong” word doesn’t magically make you injurious.