Shackled to Mental Health Political Correctness
Since I’ve started writing for HealthyPlace I’ve learned a lot about what you’re not supposed to say about mental illness. Some classics are the word “crazy” and not referring to oneself as “bipolar” directly.
In other words, I’m not allowed to say I’m a crazy bipolar.
There are many other things I’m not allowed to say too. “Mental health” can only be used in some cases whereas “mental illness” must be used in others. And then there’s “behavioural health” and the myriad of rules around talking about suicide. One could get permanent writer’s block worrying about ticking off some group of people who care about some specific word.
So I have a rule. I do what I want. And I tick off some people. It’s not on purpose; it’s just that if I didn’t, how in the heck would I write?
Political Correctness Waters Down Writing
Because you see, there are reasons why writers phrase things the way that they do and there are reasons why we need more than one way to say one thing. Following all the rules, all the time, waters down writing and makes it toothless. But my writing is about teeth. I want the teeth. I’m the one who put them there.
Ticking Off Groups of People
It’s not about ticking off groups of people or about being insensitive either; it’s about freedom of speech. Writers need to be able to express themselves in many ways because writing is art. It’s like taking the red crayon out of the box. No, artists need their red crayons. (And this isn’t about hate speech either. That’s a different subject entirely.)
And it’s about self-identity. I get that some people want to be referred to in specific ways and I try to respect that but that means that I get to identify any way I want too, and if I say I’m a crazy bipolar then there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just me using the English language in an appropriate manner.
Words Don’t Hurt People. People Hurt People.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – words don’t give us strength. Words don’t make us weak. Words are just words and it’s what’s behind them that creates an effect.
Yup, I know, then people shout “but what about increasing stigma” and “incorrect overidentification” and I say hogwash. Words don’t cause those things, we do. I can say you are a person with a mental illness and make it sound like a death sentence or call you crazy and love you to pieces. The words aren’t the differentiator, the people are.
If you want to be useful, I recommend actually standing up to stigma rather than standing up against the English language. That is what gives us strength. Not wordplay.
Tracy, N. (2012, November 27). Shackled to Mental Health Political Correctness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/11/shackled-mental-health-political-correctness
Author: Natasha Tracy
"How about “I’m batshit crazy.” No reasonable person would object to that description."
"I’m just teasing, Natasha. I really admire the way you can work so hard and write so much verbiage even though your brain is severely damaged with the bipolar. It’s so inspiring. It almost seems like you could be as productive as a normal person. Amazing!" Suzanne Beachy, the grieving mother of a son who was homeless, hungry and living next to a dumpster after she kicked him out of her house. When strangers and the police called to tell her about his plight, she did not bring him home. He was struck by a train and killed.
Words are important. As a writer, you ought to know that and believe it. Instead,you defer to the defense of "it's the speaker." Well, yes, it's that too. But that's only true when someone is speaking.
Words are important, both in speaking and in writing. But in writing, we don't have voice intonation or body language, and often even context. So the writer must be all the more careful about choosing the words. Because every single one counts.
About a year ago, I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital inpatient and 4 out-patient. A bunch of us were sitting around the common area and one of the techs walked by as we were cracking jokes about being in "the nut hut". Well, we got a scolding for saying that, even though none of us were offended by it.
Then I realized that this isn't about the person who says it. It's about how it's received by the person who hears it and that is something the speaker has no control over.
This area is rather muddled for me because gallows' humor is one of my coping mechanisms. When you live with a medical condition that has a big impact on your day to day life, sometimes it helps to make totally inappropriate jokes about it. I've known people with cancer who have done this and watched how horrified some people were to hear this (because people with cancer are supposed to be "brave" and are people to be "pitied" and aren't supposed to engage in gallows' humor).
But then it occurred to me that if someone knows that I have depression/anxiety/ADD and they hear me making jokes about it, they think that because I'm cracking jokes, it's okay for them to do it, not knowing that I'm doing it because it helps me cope.
So, I really don't have an answer and I can't really disagree or agree with you, either, because there is such a gray area here.
Christmas season and I hope we can all be positive, forgiving, and we can all love each other and use love to help us out.