On the Two Sides of “Crazy”

Recently, I was at my parents’ house trying to take a nap as my mom was in the kitchen watching a cooking show. As I drifted closer to sleep, I heard one of the judges on the show describing a dish he was trying as “psychotic”, with another judge on the panel enthusiastically agreeing that the dish was, indeed, psychotic. I immediately wondered if that was a good thing. I count my times being psychotic as some of the most frightening and painful times in my life, psychosis isn’t pleasant and I would never use the term to describe something that I was enjoying. But the judge seemed to think it the perfect term to describe a particularly tasty dish.

We have this propensity in our culture to commandeer mental health terms, such as “psychotic”, or “schizophrenic”, or “crazy”, to describe every day things. I’ve heard weather anchors on local news stations describe a peculiar weather pattern as bipolar or as schizophrenic. Weather can’t suffer from delusions or paranoia or psychosis – so why describe it as schizophrenic? Why not describe the weather as cancerous? Or diabetic?

Why describe a plate of food as “psychotic”?

There’s a huge distance between a plate of food, hastily and expertly assembled for a TV show judge, and the realities of actually being psychotic.

Real psychosis is painful, real psychosis is traumatizing. I want to avoid psychosis at all costs and I don’t think people realize the true implication of what psychosis is. This is one of the things my novel deals with – trying to describe what psychosis is actually like, what the experience of it is. I don’t think a person is likely to experience anything scarier than psychosis in their every day life. That twisted sense of unbalance, existing on the precipice between sanity and insanity, falling into the deep black void and nearly drowning in the intensity of it. It hurts. Physically and emotionally; mentally and spiritually. It can take days to recover from.

A lot of the resistance toward politically correct culture revolves around its tendency to candy-coat certain realities. I won’t get into the specifics of it because that’s beyond the scope of this blog, but I can see the point behind some of the resistance. And I used to think the same of the mental health community calling for a stop to using terms like crazy, schizophrenic, psychotic, etc. to describe every day things.

But then I got to thinking. Stigma is the number one thing the mental health community is up against with regards to getting more people access to good mental health care. Many people don’t seek help for their mental health problem specifically because of the stigma surrounding it.

It’s our culture that’s the problem, not the illnesses themselves. We have proven, effective treatment for mental illness; I’m living proof of that. The stigma revolves around people with mental illness being perceived as weak, perceived as leeches of society, perceived as being threats to the general population. We are not weak, we are not leeches, we are not a threat.

When we use mental health terms to describe the perfectly ordinary, we’re robbing those with mental illnesses of the very terms we’re given to describe ourselves, we’re lessening their meaning. When a plate of food can be so good it’s psychotic, it lessens the impact of me saying that I’m getting psychotic. Using these terms to describe the perfectly ordinary further stigmatizes the mentally ill.

When weather is bipolar, when stock markets are schizophrenic, when ex-girlfriends are crazy we’re not using those terms to describe altogether pleasant things. We’re using them to describe unpleasant things, things we wish to avoid, things which are bad. So people associate those words with negative things – and the label gets attached to the actual people with those very illnesses. Such that someone with schizophrenia isn’t just a person suffering from an illness much like someone with cancer is just a person who happens to have a particular disease that’s attacking them, regardless of their moral character. No, suddenly they’re schizophrenic, they’re to be avoided, there’s something wrong with them. They must be evil, they must be morally corrupt.

And so we depict such people in the media as being morally corrupt, as being evil, as being undesirable at best. We cease to see the person and the illness as separate and instead package them together into one container we label