Wednesday, May 04, 2011

On being "crazy", in a world that belittles "craziness"

One day recently, at work, a coworker was going on a rant about something and she said, "If it doesn't make sense to do it, then it's CRAZY!! THAT'S THE DEFINITION OF CRAZY!! AND WHY WOULD YOU DO SOMETHING CRAZY??!!" I listened, and thought: A) You really don't know what crazy means or why the term is offensive when it's been used against your self, and B) How many times has this woman seen my blog? Does she read it? She has seen it on my computer, I'm sure.

Another day recently in a meeting of an organization I'm a member of, a woman said, "OH, maybe that was just one of my HALLUCINATIONS!!" Again I thought, A) You don't know what it's like to have your life destroyed by actual hallucinations, do you? and B) How many times has this woman seen my blog? How much does this woman know about me? She knows people who know I have a mental illness. What else does she know herself?

Today, and everyday, at work, people call (my job is to answer phone lines), and I think they're faking this call to really check up on me because either:
  1. They're from a government agency checking to see if I have a legitimate disability or not.
  2. They're from my job, checking to see if there is some reason to fire me.
  3. They're from the FBI or the CIA or some other intelligence agency checking up on me.
All of these thoughts are rather disconcerting on different levels. Of course, I know it's not the CIA. The other stuff, I am not so sure about. And even though I know it's not the CIA, I still wonder if it is quite frequently. This is what it's like to be "crazy" and have "hallucinations" and delusions. This is what it's like to be me.

I'm so tired of hearing people belittle mental illness with their stupid snide comments. Today, I posted a link on Facebook to an article about how people who work in Apple Computer  factories are being forced to sign contracts swearing that they will not commit suicide, because so many employees at those plants have killed themselves in the past couple years. One of my "friends" apparently thought this was a joke, putting a little face under it as if to say, "hahaha!" Yeah, suicide is so damn funny. I am really laughing about it myself. Ha. Ha. Ha. Dead people. Ha. Ha. Ha. Oh yeah, maybe that's not really amusing...

What is wrong with people? I am really confused, especially when I've told a person that I have a mental illness, or when I know they've seen my blog, and then they make jokes about mental illness. Like what about that is appropriate to you? What gives you that audacity? What makes you think you're funny when you belittle my life and the suffering of millions of people so you can be amusing? F. You.

I'm wondering if it would really make a difference if I just came right out and told everybody I meet that I have Schizoaffective Disorder, and then they would somehow  become more sensitive about mental illness, but the truth is, I really don't think they would. I know that at times I'm paranoid, but I also know that at times, I'm not.

Another slightly annoying thing occurred recently when I had a psychiatric evaluation done by a doctor who is not my doctor at my community mental health center, but is the medical director of it. He is a very smart man, which seems clear when you speak to him. But when he asked me what I was going to college for, and what I wanted to do afterwards, I told him I really would like to be a mental health caseworker/ case manager and he said, "Hmmmm.... People with your condition have to be very careful about managing the stress in their lives, you know. People with your condition can get worse with stress. You might want to rethink that."

Wow. I didn't realize that stress could possibly affect me. Oh, yeah, that's right, I have a brain, so I guess this did occur to me before. I guess managing college, a part time job, and volunteer work in two organizations, plus moving  apartments recently is not handling any stress at all!

Of course, he didn't mean to be offensive. But I did take offense. I do think I'm capable of being a case manager. Whether I can ever handle working full time is a different story. But if I can work full time, then I think that is a job I could handle. And, incidentally, my case manager thinks so too. So does my therapist. And both of them know me better than a doctor who has only spoken to me for 45 minutes tops.

This is just yet another example of people underestimating the capabilities of those of us who have serious mental illnesses. It happens all the time. I have even seen it happen within NAMI where people sometimes assume that everybody is as seriously ill as the people they know who are the least functional among us. And we're not all that dysfunctional, so sometimes this results in those of us who are "higher functioning" having our concerns ignored completely. A lot of our education meetings focus on caregiving and professional guardians, and running ALF's and things like that, which means the meetings are often for people who do not actually have mental illnesses, but are showing up because they deal with a severely ill person who can't fnction well on her own. I would like to see more meetings that address the concerns of those of us with mental illnesses who come to the meetings.

And while I don't like the terms "low functioning", and "high functioning", I do see a difference in the way some people who live with mental illnesses manage their lives compared to the way other people with mental illnesses can manage theirs. There are people with Schizoaffective Disorder who simply cannot do all that I can do for a variety of reasons, and there are many people with mental illnesses who can do much, much more than I'll ever be able to do, like Elyn Saks for example. Sometimes those without mental illnesses lump all of us together and categorize us all in the "low functioning" pool, where our successes are seen as bizarre. I find this offensive.

So now that I've told you some of what offends me, feel free to  leave a comment about what offends you when you hear people talking about craziness, or mental illness. I know I'm not the only one who has these experiences.


  1. As far as the Apple article. Wow. That certainly makes me not want an ipad. Talk about blaming the victim... which is exactly what your doctor did! I am sure you have heard of DOCTOR Patricia Deegan, but if he asks you again if you can handle the stress, bring up her name and say she sure did! (If you haven't heard of her--she is a Doctor, who has schizophrenia, and founded the National Empowerment Center. They do amazing trainings about what it is like to hear voices.)

  2. Depending on the kind of agency you work for... the trainings might be beneficial for all the staff. (I'm sorry I forget if you work for a human services agency...)

  3. You probably do NOT need me to say this to know it, still... I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING YOU WROTE. Period. I am TIRED of hearing misused crazy-related terms. I am TIRED of people not understanding or making light of what we live with. I am TIRED of wondering whether I should really just tell everyone. I am TIRED of thinking that would be rather ineffective. I am TIRED of people without a mental illness taking a "Mental Health Day" off of work, knowing that I could NEVER do the same without fearing that I'd raise suspicion. I am TIRED of people (in and out of the MI community) assuming that all people with a mental illness are incapable of being real, actual, feeling, thinking, and producing human beings. I am TIRED of people (in and out of the MI community) defining for me what my life should and could be. WORST OF ALL, I am TIRED of finally disclosing my illness to someone and hearing "Yeah, but YOU're not really CRAZY, right?" What the hell does that mean? You know all this, of course. But you asked me to share what offends I'm all too happy to oblige. I love this post because it needed to be written. I hate this post because it's true.

  4. (stands, applauds and cheers for Jen's and Define Functioning's comments)

    I couldn't have said it better than you two. I, too, get super offended when people say that "You don't look 'crazy.'" It's the classic double-bind that we all have to suffer from with these diseases.

    If you let people see all of your symptoms then they call you "crazy" and shun you. But, if you try and put on a brave face and keep things to yourself then they think you're just fine. I'm about to go around in a wheel chair just to get some attention!!

    I'm also tired that we have "pink" everything for breast cancer awareness but nothing for mental health awareness. Awareness? Pshaw!! They will never want to raise awareness when they don't even want to be aware of us as individuals. Damn it, We're people, no monsters!!

  5. So, to Jen and everyone else here, if you'd like, PLEASE consider venting onto this ( discussion topic. DF is going to publish a book on this topic. Quickly. And, of course, I'm giving credit however you'd like credit given.

  6. Hi, I just came across your b log here recently and I have read many of your posts even as far back as last summer. I do enjoy reading your blog.

    I hate it when people use teh word "crazy" cuz I mean are we really crazy? Using that word is a big deal. I don't think that there are many that are actually "crazy". Afterall especially people with bipolar disorder are some of the most creative people there is. We are all capable of actually being geniuses. And we understand the majority of what people with MI go through. Doctors do not understand unless they have actually experienced it themselves.

    I think it would be great for someone with an MI to go into the MI field of work because you can relate with those people and even be able to help them more than just someone with a degree with no knowledge of what it is like to have a MI and know what they actually go through. Wouldn't you think?

    Another thing that bugs the crap out of me is when people do find out that you have a MI they treat you differently than they did before all because they know now. Regardless of how productive you are they still treat you differently because :now they know". You would think they would b at least a little more understanding or at least try to be but nope most do not.

    Anyway I have actually been thinking about starting a mental illness blog myself but haven't made that decision as of yet. Either way wish you the best in everything that you do.

  7. I worked for psychologists for over a year and could not bring myself to share with them that I have bipolar disorder. They fired me in October of last year and replaced me with someone they liked better. I get really tired of not being able to share the fact that I have a mental illness because it's going to affect how people look at me and how they react to EVERYTHING that I say.

    I blog a lot about my bipolar disorder now on I finally got tired of hiding it and decided after I got fired that if people couldn't accept me as I am with a mental illness, then they were not worth having in my life. So what offends me is how I've always felt that I could not share that I have a mental illness. It especially offended me that I could not even share this with psychologists.

    Trust me when I say that people who go into the psychology field ALL have major issues. Some will admit it and some won't, but they are very defensive about it and don't want to see it in anyone that works for them. And they also make fun of the people that they treat. At least they did in the office I worked in. I hope it isn't that way everywhere. I have a private therapist who doesn't have a staff for exactly this reason. I don't want to wonder if they are talking about me in a nasty way the way I heard those people talking about their clients.

    The people I worked for had: ADHD, OCD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and another ADHD. I also believe one of the office workers had Borderline Personality Disorder and the other was probably co-dependent and enabling her husband's drinking. Four of these are people who have doctorate degrees in the field! And they're making fun of the clients. This TOTALLY offends me.

    Jen, I have tried to find your email address, but I don't see it anywhere on your blog. I would love to talk to you more about what you take to help with sleep. You had left a comment on my blog about it and I have a question. Sorry, this is off the topic, but I didn't know how else to get in touch with you. My email address is on my blog if you want to send me yours.

  8. I read this post days ago and wanted to give you two thumbs up and shout out a 'hell yeah'. Preach it!

  9. I'm afraid to say I've had all too many experiences like yours. When you challenge people they become super embarrassed like you've dared name the elephant in the room - the one they were riding with glee. A friend used the term: "bipolar scream" to me recently. I asked her what that meant, because in the twenty years since I've been diagnosed I've never screamed once. We had a good conversation as she is intelligent, but it's easy to see how people just pick up on inaccurate and hurtful terms and run with them. Keep writing!

  10. Thank you to everyone who responded to this post! Obviously I touched a nerve, which is not suprrising. I think it's great to be having this conversation and saying out loud what offends us and that we don't want to put up with it anymore. The stigma that enshoruds mental illness needs to end.

    Define Functioning is a great site, and if you click on the link that was posted in the comment here, you can go there and discuss more on this topic too.

  11. Hi I just wanted to let you know that I recently started a blog on mental illness myself. I had been thinking about it for a long time and decided to go for it. Thought maybe it would help me as well as some others. Here is the address if you would like to check it out.

  12. Wow!! Wondeful post. I just found your blog (again). Look forward to reading and learning more from you.


I welcome comments from all readers and encourage you to leave them! Please do. However, due to spam, I review each comment before it can be posted, so it may take 24-48 hours before your comment appears on the blog. Please be patient. I post comments that are not spam.Note: my definition of "spam" includes ALL links to sites claiming to cure or provide "the solution" for incurable diseases such as Schizoaffective Disorder and Schizophrenia. Vulnerable people come to my blog, and I will not let them be preyed upon, but people who post snake oil remedies on the internets. Take your garbage and peddle it elsewhere. Since Blogger doesn't weed all that garbage out, I've been doing it myself for years.