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JT on Mental Illness

At Skepticon last weekend, JT Eberhard gave a very brave speech about mental illness. It was brave because he suffers from one of the most common forms of mental illness himself, anorexia. You wouldn’t know it now, given how buff the guy is, but as he explains, this is a form of anorexia as well. I had to leave early and missed it at the time and was disappointed, so I’m happy that it is up on Youtube now. He’s also asking others to come out of the closet, to talk about their mental illness.

If you’re a blogger who lives with a mental disorder, write about it. If you don’t, learn something new about mental illnesses and write a post about what you learned or dispel a myth or share how knowing someone with a mental illness has affected your life and ways you’ve learned to help. Write a facebook status if you’re not a blogger. The adoption of this issue by the skeptic community will change the world. It will save lives.

This talk will make you cry. And it will make you cheer. And it will make you admire JT as much as I do for his courage. I’ve never suffered from any kind of mental illness, but I’ve known and loved many who have. But the whole issue still exists in this nether world of shame and no one wants to talk about it. Immense respect to JT for getting up in front of a thousand people and then putting this up for the whole world to see.

Here’s what I learned from the video: Appearances can fool the hell out of you. Just like I would never have guessed that JT has an incredible singing voice, I would never have guessed that he suffered from a mental illness. You meet him and he’s in great shape and he’s gregarious and engaging and the life of the party. You’re naturally drawn to him because of his energy and his intelligence. You would never, ever guess that there can be such torment going on inside his head at times. And that is why it was so important for him to give this talk.

Comments

  1. ManOutOfTime says

    humbling to be recognized by the gods. This must be how Moses felt…

    Ha! You are crazy! Seriously, though, this is one powerful, moving talk and JT is very brave for being willing and able to give it. JT is at the vanguard: Psychodiversity — I’m not even sure that’s the right term — is something civilization will come to acknowledge and accept as a natural part of life, the way physical disabilities are losing their stygma. It’s a loooong way off. I have been treated for depression and neuroses my entire adult life, but I only share that with my closest family and friends. Thanks do much for sharing this.

  2. says

    If we’re going to be disclosing our mental oddities, I guess I’ll contribute: Last year, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, but at a “high functioning” level so that most people just took me for a neurotypical geek. It explains a share of my geeky obsessions and some of the lack of social contacts in meatspace.

    I’d attribute the rest of the social isolation to being surrounded by religious and political landmines. I’m an atheist, utterly disgusted with the Republicans, and I live in Texas. After I finish my Master’s degree, I’ll consider changing that last item. I may have to expand my winter wardrobe.

  3. says

    The term I’m used to hearing is “neurodiversity.” I used to read some autism-focused blogs that were generally aimed at debunking anti-vaxxer claims and quack cures.

    The latter issue was usually covered for moral and social reasons as well as the bad science. Even if you could take away the autism, it would radically change the person, and I met a share of autistic commentators who wouldn’t want to be “neurotypical.” They’re also rather enraged that a lot of autistic kids are talked about like a disease covering up some “trapped” fantasy child instead of being treated as a real person.

  4. bananacat says

    I don’t have a blog so I’ll share here. I have OCD, severe enough that I have been (successfully) treated for it. I don’t really know what to share specifically, but if anyone has general questions about my experience with the stigma of this, I’ll try to answer them.

  5. happiestsadist says

    I’ll write something in my own blog later, but I have OCD, major depression and PTSD. I’ve had treatment for all, to the point where I only rarely wake up screaming, and I’m no longer taking antidepressants (though I acknowledge that as a chronic condition, I may do so again later. Right now, I don’t need the extra help.)

    Bananacat: Do you also give a killer stinkeye to people who go “Lol I’m soooo OCD, I cleaned my house today!”?

  6. harold says

    Mental illness has had a major impact on almost every aspect of my life. I’m very close to someone with paranoid schizophrenia and have had severe clinical depression.

    This video is very valuable, because mental illness in general, and anorexia nervosa in particular, are highly misunderstood by the general public. (Technically, “anorexia” can mean loss of appetite for any reason.)

  7. says

    This is a topic that is a long time coming in the skeptical community. It also seems to be a bit of a taboo for us. I’ve raised the issue on other skeptical blogs when otherwise open-minded and sensitive bloggers like P.Z. and others feel free to use words like crazy to describe those who write them angry emails. Jokes about the voices in the person’s head, post office shootings, men in white coats, and other such hilarity are sure to follow. I am usually met with sarcasm or, more typically, blown off altogether when I criticize this sort of bigotry. And it is bigotry. To a person living with mental illness, words like crazy, nut, psycho, etc. are no different than nigger. These people are no different than the hate-filled bastards who made sexist and misogynistic jokes about Rebecca a few months ago. Well, no different except that no one seems to notice or have a problem with their commentary. Maybe JT can help turn that around.

  8. ericthered says

    I was recently diagnosed with Social/general anxiety disorder. I always thought that I was just terminally shy. Being in social settings has always been a challenge, so I have both avoided social settings and deliberately challenged myself to engage in them. I recently took up swing dancing and sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail, but I refuse to give up. My disorder is more moderate than many suffer with, but I can appreciate how debilitating it can be. I also have a sister with bipolar disorder and we had a family “meltdown” yesterday in part because my brother refuses to even try and understand it (I can’t say how much this has to do with it, but he is the most religious of my family.)

  9. bananacat says

    Bananacat: Do you also give a killer stinkeye to people who go “Lol I’m soooo OCD, I cleaned my house today!”?

    Yes, this annoys me to end, especially because my house is so messy because of my OCD.

    But my bigger annoyance is this trend to call anyone bipolar who is a little moody, and I don’t even have bipolar disorder. No, a cranky cat that bites you while you’re petting him isn’t bipolar; he’s just a typical cat.

  10. azazel says

    Since like bananacat I too have no blog to post this on, I thought I’d share my story here. I have schizo-affective disorder. Put simply, this means I have a type of schizophrenia and severe depression combined. I take an antipsychotic every day to treat the symptoms, and luckily, it works well. It is a rare day when I have any auditory hallucinations, whereas before the medication, I’d have them every day. I am not even remotely embarrassed to say that I have a mental illness and I am very open with my friends and family about it. They have been an amazing support network for me. I will tell anyone about it who wants to know. I am a firm believer in getting help when you need it, no matter how hard it may be. And trust me, I know exactly how hard it can be.

    If anyone has any questions, I don’t mind telling my story. I feel that it helps break down the stigma attached to it, and maybe it helps someone feel better about seeking professional help.

  11. The Christian Cynic says

    bananacat: My wife has OCD as well (diagnosed but not incredibly severe), and she struggles with that as well, although a new medication has helped with that in some regards. Interesting to hear that the problem is more common than I thought.

  12. The Christian Cynic says

    (Oh, and she hates the “bipolar” thing, too. As do I – when you live with someone who’s bipolar, you know that it’s more serious than being “moody.”)

  13. leftwingfox says

    zachariahwasson: I was actually just thinking about that. I think as a society, we lack the language to distinguish between atypical behaviours brought on by culture, and atypical behaviours brought on by neurological disorders. Given the gulf between reality and the mainstream rhetoric of the right these days, we reach for the psychological terms to try and describe the claims of folks like Glenn Beck, David Icke, or the Alex Jones.

    I think a number of folks who still use terms like crazy, insane or nuts to describe wildly false statements, would never use those phrases to describe people suffering from mental illness. unfortunately it still links negative behaviour to mental illness, and those links are only worse when someone being criticized for “crazy talk” actually turns out to have a mental illness.

  14. Azkyroth says

    I think a number of folks who still use terms like crazy, insane or nuts to describe wildly false statements, would never use those phrases to describe people suffering from mental illness. unfortunately it still links negative behaviour to mental illness, and those links are only worse when someone being criticized for “crazy talk” actually turns out to have a mental illness.

    There is a valuable social role, both descriptively and normatively, for having a single, simple term to describe behavior that is uncontrolled, irrational, frightening, and possibly dangerous, and by extension for those who characteristically exhibit such behavior and/or characteristically indulge or harbor the mindsets that produce it. There is already precedent for “crazy” in this usage, and my suggestion is that we codify it. Most people with mental illnesses are not crazy, and it is plausible (though I haven’t seen statistics) that people with diagnosable mental illnesses form a minority of those who are in fact crazy. Ditto for “nut” and “psycho” although they’re kind of redundant, but actual diagnostic terms (like “bipolar,” “schizophrenic,” and my personal berserk button, “Asperger’s”/”autistic” shouldn’t be used in this fashion. I’m relatively comfortable with “delusional” for people whose apparently sincere statements are grossly and manifestly at odds with reality, though, and I don’t think speculation about matching personality disorder symptoms is necessarily out of line where there’s fairly substantive evidence of symptom matching).

    I have two additional notes on this. First, as someone with a history of psychiatric diagnoses and treatment and an actual disorder (Asperger’s syndrome, misdiagnosed as depression and then bipolar-variants after the child psychiatrists I saw were finally dragged kicking and screaming away from the idea that I was only bullied because I was “just a brat”), I really resent being condesplained at about this. I get more than my share of condesplaining just dealing with neurotypical privilege, thanks.

    Second, I find the apparent equation of mental illness with, say, being gay or being a woman very troubling. There’s no denying that many people with mental illnesses are basically only a danger to themselves, if at all, and are indeed victims of both their own condition and the social stigma against either mental illnesses or those who seek psychiatric help. That said, it’s also undeniable that in some cases mental illness directly causes behaviors that make victims of others. As one of those victims, I find it offensive and disturbing that this gets swept under the rug in simplistic analogies – the moral analysis of mental illness as a societal phenomenon is in fact much more complicated.

  15. says

    First, to JT, thanks for courageously sharing your story. People so often lack any sense of how common difficulties including intense emotional suffering, conflict, difficulty controlling behaviors really are. Obviously I have the opportunity to see that there is invisible suffering all around us. It’s so much a part of the human condition and people ought to at least be relieved of any sense of embarrassment about what I’d consider relatively “normal” or at least frequent but painful problems of human beings.

    @zachariahwasson

    To a person living with mental illness, words like crazy, nut, psycho, etc. are no different than nigger. These people are no different than the hate-filled bastards who made sexist and misogynistic jokes about Rebecca a few months ago.

    eh… not really, except to a segment who, in addressing real concerns, have gone quite p.c. overboard, IMO. A lot is in the attitude of the speaker, who is being spoken to and what is being spoken about. To say Michele Bachmann is a nut, is not a slam on schizophrenics. To tell a schizophrenic person that they’re nuts is demeaning, but more than a few schizophrenics would refer to a psychotic episode saying that they were nuts or crazy and didn’t realize it. Same with describing a manic state. Nuts or crazy are lay terms to describe behavior that’s seriously departing from consensual reality, and it’s an overarching category referring to disturbing things, things that don’t make sense, things out of control (my car is acting crazy, the fans are going crazy).

    As leftwingfox suggests, these words do not fall into crystal clear categories of use and meaning, and I think we’re being unduly prissy when we start forbidding the use of these words that fit well to describe disturbing things we may encounter in the world. Likewise, I wouldn’t hesitate to use these words to characterize my own reactions or feelings or thoughts at times, because all of us are crazy sometimes. The mind is a pretty wobbly affair, even in the most stable people. Maybe this is easier for me because I don’t regard words like crazy, nuts or loon as clinical diagnoses.

  16. trav42 says

    I’m a happily married gay bipolar man and I have a blog: bpder.wordpress.com. Just ignore the “today was a good day” stuff because there is also some fairly revealing stuff in there. There is also a bunch of stuff not in there that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to be open about. I hate minimizing anyone’s illness, but my illness is pretty severe. I’m sure everyone’s is. Luckily in the past year my meds have started getting things under control.

    @Azkyroth
    As you said, you raised a very complicated set of issues. I’m very sorry at your mistreatment by the mental health professionals, and by whoever victimized you.

    First, the thing that keeps me taking my meds day-in and day-out despite the non-trivial side-effects is my absolute horror that I could hurt someone. I’ve been in that violent headspace and it is not a nice place to be.

    Second, I agree 100% that we have to draw very clear lines between reality and unreality and acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Can you believe that I have described hallucinations to some people and they’ve said “Well, some people are just more perceptive than others.” This is so wrong! Not all points of view are equally valid. I am not at all ashamed of being mentally ill (actually it’s quite fascinating at times). I’m not proud of it, either. What I am proud of is every little victory I have over my illness. Where I feel shame, sometimes, is when I get beaten by it.

    I have faced stigma and discrimination (losing my job) merely because I made the mistake of telling an employer I have bipolar. Suddenly I was untrustworthy and incompetent, even though my work didn’t change, and soon I was gone. Unfortunately I was depressed at the time, so I believed every word my boss said and I didn’t fight back. It was almost a year before I could work again because I thought I was so worthless.

  17. trav42 says

    Actually, I’ve been much more offended by the use of the word “disabled” dripping with venom and cynicism, than by a good-natured use of the word “crazy”. Context and intent are everything. It’s the same thing with ill-intentioned use of the word “homosexual” and good-natured use of “fag” and “queer”.

  18. says

    Mad or madness are words I really prefer to describe the ordinary manifestations of the irrational underbrain–where the continuous machinations around conflicts, stresses and compromises occur mostly without conscious deliberation or rational mediation. If you’re looking closely (or not so closely) at the world, beginning with oneself, it’s evident that madness spills out everywhere in human affairs. So much of what we call mental illness exists on a continuum of expression of the mental underworld. I also think we have good reason to even believe that a considerable part of what we characterize as mental disorders may involve selected unconscious heuristics that have some history of adaptivity to conditions human beings have faced historically.

  19. bananacat says

    Just FYI, being “PC” isn’t about avoiding bad words or trying to appease some radical leftists who you think don’t have the right to be offended without your approval. And you’re not being some awesome, badass, rule-breaker by doing things that aren’t PC; you’re just an average person with unexamined privilege. You don’t gain cool points for being non-PC. It doesn’t really matter if many people with mental illness are fine with pejorative uses of “crazy”. It is offensive and hurtful to a lot of people, and I choose to care about their opinion and find other words to use. It’s just basic courtesy.

  20. dingojack says

    zachariahwasson (#8) –
    To me Glenn Bek is crazy, but you have a mental illness.*
    Would you be offended if someone described another person (or themselves) as ‘creaky’? Would you feel differently if they explained they have rheumatoid (or osteo) arthritis?

    Dingo
    —–
    * Bek’s behaviour is knowingly irrational and hateful, those with mental illness are not being knowingly irrational and/or hateful, it’s involuntary.

    Incidentally, Stephen Fry did a documentary on his bipolar disorder in which he talked to a number of others with the illness. When asked whether they would choose (if they could) to become completely ‘normal’, all of them said “no”.

  21. trav42 says

    @bananacat
    After what I said above, I think you’re right that one has to be completely sensitive to the audience one is addressing. I didn’t think of the wider implications when I said what was okay for me.

    For example, my mother is also bipolar and she feels a lot more stigma about it than I do. I would never use stigma-leaden terms around her.

    For me, however, I have always drawn distinctions between symbols and underlying meanings. To me, the symbols are basically irrelevant and the meanings are everything. I do recognize that I am very atypical in thinking this way.

    @Dingo and Dr X
    I always draw the distinction between being merely incorrect (which most people are) and being ill (which I am). Granted we can never go inside someone’s head, so we can never know for sure which is which for any given person.

  22. trav42 says

    Sorry for so many little posts.

    Re: Stephen Fry and asking bipolar people if they wanted to be “normal”

    If I could just be manic, I would say “no, leave me as I am.” but if I had to stay being depressive then I would say “yes, make me normal.” I wouldn’t wish being depressed on my worst enemy.

  23. dingojack says

    Bipolarality can be destructive in both phases. Reckless, tactless self-destructive mania followed by leaden, fearful self-loathing depression, neither are good.
    My point was that ‘crazy’ describes a behaviour, not a personality.
    If a guy was yelling obsenities on bus would you describe them as’crazy’? Would you react differently if you knew they a particularlly severe case of Tourette’s Syndrome or Wilson’s Disease? How about if they were a severe alcoholic? Or if they were just being an asshole?

  24. theguy says

    “If you’re a blogger who lives with a mental disorder, write about it.”

    I have Purely Obsessional OCD, which is a lesser-known variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder which is more mental. The compulsions are still there, but they are inside my mind. Instead of having to touch things a set number of times, people with Pure-O obsess over whether they might have harmed someone, said/done something blasphemous and their sexual orientation.

    For me, my Pure-O was much worse when I was religious. I don’t want to go into details, because it’s personal, and the specific examples don’t make sense even when explained.

    I agree with bananacat at #20. Using the word “crazy” to describe people like Glenn Beck doesn’t work; the word doesn’t capture the same sense as “willfully ignorant” or “trolling” do.

  25. dingojack says

    PS: I’m certainly not claiming to be any kind of expert, nor am I trying to minimize your experience of the world.
    I’m simply trying to understand the issue, and talking about it with others helps clarify and question my perceptions.
    Dingo

  26. dingojack says

    The sets of ‘willfully ignorant’, ‘trolls’ and ‘crazy’ are not completely congruent, although they do have intersections.

  27. Rawnaeris says

    I have been informally (thanks shitty healthcare) diagnosed with PMDD. Three of the last four months I’ve had debilitating panic attacks on top of my already severe cramps and mood swings that came with my PMS.

    Luckily this last month, when my doctor started me on a low dose of an anti-anxiety medicine I didn’t have one. So we may have already gotten it into some kind of control. We’re going to be working on minimizing some of the other symptoms, ie. the almost debilitating cramps, starting this next month.

    Hopefully in a few months time, we will have found me a dosage level of the anti-anxiety medicine to prevent or minimize the panic attacks, reduce the severity of the mood swings, and still have minimal side effects.

  28. says

    I’m one of those people who uses terms like “crazy” and “nut” and “whacko” all the time about people like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann. It never occurred to me that this might be offensive to anyone with mental illness and no one has ever suggested to me before that it might. It never occurred to me, I think, because I would never call someone with a genuine mental illness crazy. That just isn’t how I use the term; I use it to only in a political sense to mean those whose views are incredibly detached from reality. I’m certainly open to suggestion on a better term or set of terms for what I intend.

  29. Sir Shplane, Grand Mixmaster, Knight of the Turntable says

    As someone who struggles every day with mental illness, I am actually totally ok with the use of “Crazy” when applied to political opponents. That may be because I’ve only had the term “Crazy” applied to me in the context of “This person is my friend, and they are actually making a pretty hilarious joke about this situation as a whole that is obviously good natured and in no way derogatory.” If people had used it as a slur against me, I may be bothered by it now.

    It may also tie into my love of mildly offensive hyperbole. I do try to be sufficiently over the top so as to never actually be taken seriously and thus not actually offend anyone, though. I hope it works.

    Being a crazy person kind of does suck, though, and I imagine if I ever felt that someone actually had it in for crazy people like myself, I would totally not be cool with them using those terms to describe Glenn Beck. I give you Shplane’s Happy Coocoo Crazykid Seal Of Approval though, Ed. Not that it means anything for anyone who isn’t me, I’m sure.

  30. Azkyroth says

    It doesn’t really matter if many people with mental illness are fine with pejorative uses of “crazy”. It is offensive and hurtful to a lot of people, and I choose to care about their opinion and find other words to use. It’s just basic courtesy.

    The use of the words “Good without God” is “offensive and hurtful” to a lot of people, too. I suggest we need better criteria than that…

  31. Azkyroth says

    I agree with bananacat at #20. Using the word “crazy” to describe people like Glenn Beck doesn’t work; the word doesn’t capture the same sense as “willfully ignorant” or “trolling” do.

    “Willfully ignorant” and “trolling” don’t address the irrational or potentially dangerous aspects of it and carry a presumption, that he at some level “knows better,” which is not in evidence.

  32. Pinky says

    Thank you JT Eberhard. I watched the video and thought about what you said for a few hours before writing this.

    I also have a mental illness I try to hide as much as possible. I have experienced the attitudes of those who hear mental illness and think: Completely crazy, not reliable, everything he says or does must be insanity.” Tiring quickly of the stupidity, I learned to keep quiet and out of sight.

    My body is ruined, the only thing my body does well is send pain impulses. A drunk hit & run driver ran into me while I was walking and left me in a middle of a street, unable to move, screaming in pain, very early on a November morning before the sun came up and with an overcast sky. I was sure a car would not see me and run over me. I have a bad case of PTSD, depression and ancillary mental illnesses.

    I must of heard the ill considered phrase: “God must have spared you for some reason.” Way too many times. I have been known on occasion to retort with a: “Why? So he could enjoy himself torturing me?

    Where I could really use some help, in the simple form of discussing with me my thoughts of death. Such a talk with my core support people has never happened. The most I’ve gotten is a:”Ha Ha [Pinky] you’ll outlive all of us.” or anxious, almost angry demands for me to call my psychologist. As a person whose pain, at times, bounces to 9.9 on the scale of 10, I retain the right to euthanize myself if the pain becomes unlivable, however, I do not want to say “Goodby and thanks for all the fish” because despondency drove me to death by my own hand. I don’t know if it’s personal morality or pragmatism in me that gives the green light to ending my life for physical reasons and a red light to ending my life for reasons of depression. What it means to me every day for the past fifteen plus years is having discussions with myself to determine if today is a good day to die. So you can see why I would like someone close to me to talk about it with me. Not gunna happen, so I’ve learned to live with it.

    Yes I do have professional help and I am taking enough drugs to stun an elephant. Which brings me to another comment; I’ve learned not to talk about my mental health too much with my physicians. The only answer I’ve received are more drugs. If it’s one thing I’ve learned about drugs is that there is no free lunch. Many drugs have deleterious side effects which is another thing to live with or be given additional drugs for and so it goes. I think one reason physicians prescribe so many drugs is they only think about your case from the time they pick up your file and walk into the room to see you and stop when your visit is finished, usually less than ten minutes. I don’t believe physicians in the US are negligent, they just have too many patients. Who has time for research and to think about one person when you have so many patients, it is more expedient to give out the drugs the drug company rep has been talking about over expensive lunches paid for with the rep’s expense account.

    I should stop now. I have four hundred more pages of stuff to write about on this subject, but I already sound like a whiner and I know any deep thinking of, writing or discussing the subject will give me a headache that will last for three days.

    Thank you for your forbearance, I promise to try to learn what succinct means.

  33. dingojack says

    Pinky et al.
    Me, complaining about my extremely mild dysthymia is whining, others on this thread sharing their real, debilitating and painful experiences with some pretty serious-sounding mental health problems – well that’s something else entirely.
    Just my $0.02.
    Dingo

  34. trav42 says

    @Pinky
    I’m really sorry to hear about the stuff that has happened to you. It makes me thankful for my own life.

    I think one reason physicians prescribe so many drugs is they only think about your case from the time they pick up your file and walk into the room to see you and stop when your visit is finished, usually less than ten minutes. I don’t believe physicians in the US are negligent, they just have too many patients.

    I think this is too true. I have had to accept the fact that I am basically starting from scratch with every visit to my psychiatrist, so I just automatically remind him of whatever personal details of mine he’s going to need on every visit.

    The thing is that I view my illness as a mostly physical ailment. I mean I do have delusions and psychoses, but I *know* they are delusions and psychoses. Even if I was my doctor’s only patient, I doubt he would be in a better position than me to know what is what.

    All I really want from my doctor are the meds to help me with the physical problems (by that I mean stuff caused by my actual brain hardware) that no amount of insight on my part is going to overcome: bipolar depression and mania.

  35. Aquaria says

    I don’t talk about my mental illness problems very often.

    I’ve had depression since I was a kid, and it’s gone down some really, really dark roads, including suicide attempts.

    Therapy has been an utter disaster. I’ve somehow managed to get the stupidest, most sadistic and most incompetent people ever to get a psychology or psychiatry degree sitting across from me. Eight of them. #9 was working out at last, but then i got transferred to another city. I seriously thought about driving the 250 miles to go to him still.

    The thought of looking for a new one depressed me so much that I never did find a replacement. My luck, I’d get the one that finally did me in. That’s how bad my luck has been with them.

    The meds–please. My worst suicidal episode happened while taking Prozac. The others made me sick. Or worked only a few months (Effexor).

    I’m resigned to being depressed. One of these days, it will probably kill me. Oh well. We all die, sooner or later.

  36. says

    I wasn’t thinking so much of right wing commentators as commenters and e-mailers (think “I Get Email”) often seen on these and other similar blogs who obviously *are* mentally unstable being ridiculed with unsavory jokes about their mental disposition. It is not a joking matter, nor is it merely PC to suggest that it is not. Further, the suggestion that mentally ill people are more violent or dangerous to society does a great disservice and perpetuates the already tremendous stigma. I find the excuse making here similar to other excuses made for bigotry. For example: “I don’t just call black people niggers. A nigger can be any color.” Or: “I would never call an actual retarded person a retard. I would never call an actual gay person a faggot.” We’ve all heard this sort of bullshit before; and it’s clearly rationalizing bullshit. I’m not sure why it is not just as transparent to most people as it is with other forms of bigotry. There is certainly no evidential basis for separating this from racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. other than personal preference.

  37. says

    Aquaria: I know how the “keep your chin up” drivel sounds to someone who is truly clinically depressed. I won’t even try. It took decades of misery and disappointment before I found a med combination that made life tolerable. And it’s only tolerable. I’m still depressed to one degree or another most days. I hope you find something that works for you eventually. The “therapy” is definitely a waste of time and money; psychology is primarily a pseudoscience. The medication is at least somewhat science-based, though efficaciously overstated by pharmaceutical companies.

  38. says

    zachariahwasson wrote:

    I wasn’t thinking so much of right wing commentators as commenters and e-mailers (think “I Get Email”) often seen on these and other similar blogs who obviously *are* mentally unstable being ridiculed with unsavory jokes about their mental disposition.

    But why would there be a difference? If it’s bigoted to use those terms in a negative way, why it would be less so if used against right wing commentators than against right wing emailers? I’m not understanding the distinction.

    Further, the suggestion that mentally ill people are more violent or dangerous to society does a great disservice and perpetuates the already tremendous stigma.

    But in reality, some mentally ill people really are more violent and dangerous to society. I think that’s an important distinction. The problem is not in recognizing that reality, it’s in grouping everyone with a mental illness together. That’s an incredibly broad category. Someone suffering from anorexia or OCD is no more violent or dangerous than anyone else, but those who suffer with paranoid delusions and any number of other forms of mental illness may well be.

    I find the excuse making here similar to other excuses made for bigotry. For example: “I don’t just call black people niggers. A nigger can be any color.” Or: “I would never call an actual retarded person a retard. I would never call an actual gay person a faggot.” We’ve all heard this sort of bullshit before; and it’s clearly rationalizing bullshit. I’m not sure why it is not just as transparent to most people as it is with other forms of bigotry. There is certainly no evidential basis for separating this from racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. other than personal preference.

    I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Crazy is an adjective, a description, rather than a noun used as an epithet. And it has a whole range of meanings in different contexts, it isn’t merely an epithet. I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong. I may well end up agreeing with you ultimately, but I don’t think that comparison is as simple and obvious as you do. When I said it had never occurred to me, I meant exactly that. You’ve given me something to think about and I am thinking about it, and I’m happy for everyone giving their thoughts above. I want to talk about this with my readers and with my friends who do have some of these problems, including JT, and decide on that basis.

  39. says

    Re: Crazy as a pejorative

    I’ve never really cared, even though I do label myself as crazy. To me, it’s always been a matter of what people mean when they use those words. I’ve said “I love you” at times when both I and the person I was speaking to knew it meant “go to hell”.

    I can see where some people might. Will have to think more on this.

    Re: Stephen Fry

    There can be no question that my condition has made me who I am. Time that could have been spent being social was replaced with time spent on self-improvement: running scales vocally, reading up on the arguments for god’s existence and learning about their rebuttals, learning about physics, etc. There was psychotic dedication to find some way to make people accept me despite my physical shortcomings. It made me a ‘better’ person.

    But that time was miserable, and it was all in a big effort to make myself happier – which my condition prevented. If I could be well then or now…yes. Absolutely, without question, yes. We take drugs and see therapists in pursuit of normalcy. I’m not sure why we’d reject it if offered.

    JT

  40. trav42 says

    Aquaria: I have to agree with zachariahwasson. It took me seven years of trying to find a med combination that more or less works, and there are/were big side-effects. Some of the side effects went away over time, but some are permanent. To me, however, nothing is worse than being depressed, so I take my pills every day. While my life isn’t perfect, it is definitely better than it was.

  41. says

    I emailed this comment to Ed, but will leave it here as well.

    Craziness depicts a state of being severed from reality. That’s a bad thing. It’s something a crazy person would change if they could. Admitting that doesn’t make crazy people bad people in my eyes. Just because we nutters are blameless does not mean that insanity is something to pursued, which it seems is the implication when you call someone or their ideas crazy. In the cases you apply it, the people with the loopy idea have the capacity to be better on the subject in question. Crazy people do not, and by calling a ludicrous idea crazy you’re not absolving the person holding it of falling short of their full capacity.

    In my eyes, it’s all about what people mean. As I said in the comment thread, I’ve said “I love you” at times when both I and the person I was speaking to knew it meant “go to hell”.

    JT

  42. says

    I suppose I need to clarify further. What I am talking about is using the terminology and typical nasty comments about people who are *actually* mentally ill. I am not talking about right-wing jagovs who spew wild nonsense in order to garner ratings, the media spotlight, attention, or simply to piss people off. I would like to see the evidence that mentally ill people are significantly more violent than those who are not. I think this is a prejudiced assumption based on Hollywood stereotypes rather than on reality. I’m pretty sure that most violent crimes are committed by people who are not mentally ill. Thank you for at least considering the idea.

  43. harold says

    I’m one of those people who uses terms like “crazy” and “nut” and “whacko” all the time about people like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann

    This is my eccentric opinion, I guess, but, being very close to a person with paranoid schizophrenia in a way that heavily impacted my life from early childhood –

    I have never been very bothered by these words.

    These words are humorous and not particularly hateful.

    They have broad meanings. Most people don’t use them as a direct colloquial reference to mental illness any more.

    I am extremely, extremely opposed to negative stereotyping of the mentally ill, or inappropriate labeling of negative behavior as mentally ill when it is really just negative (an indirect slur on people with mental illness), but these words are not always in that category.

    I use them myself to describe some of the thinking patterns I engaged in when I had depression.

    What annoys me is misuse of medical terms.

    I would actually be quite offended if someone were to repeatedly call Michelle Bachmann “schizophrenic”. She isn’t, and that’s not what that word means. She does show some behavioral patterns that strongly suggest that she could benefit from therapy, but in her public appearances, she does not show signs of acute, untreated schizophrenia.

    There is an annoying subgroup of atheists who, although untrained in psychology or psychiatry, insist on referring to culturally sanctioned religious beliefs in terms of mental illness, using technical terms. I have explained to some of them that this is offensive – it both trivializes mental illness, and, at a deeper level, shows that they perceive “behavior I don’t approve of” and “mental illness” as being synonymous or closely related. They have universally been too self-righteous and pompous to listen, and in the end, I don’t really care.

    But if you’re wondering what to avoid, I recommend avoiding that.

    I wonder how other people feel. Are other progressive, non-religious people who have experience with mental illness annoyed by this?

  44. says

    zachariah-

    Thanks for the clarification. Unfortunately, I find your position a bit more confusing now than before. If you really think that calling someone crazy is just like calling someone a nigger or a faggot, as you say above, then shouldn’t it be wrong to call anyone that under any circumstances? Especially since you also say that you don’t accept the position that someone would never call someone who actually is mentally ill crazy. I think there’s a disconnect between premise and conclusion here.

    And if it is okay to say it about “right wing jagovs,” how is one to know when such a person, like someone who emails you nasty, irrational emails, is actually mentally ill and who is not?

    And let me make clear that I am not arguing that mentally ill people are more dangerous or violent than non-mentally ill people. The problem is that the term “mentally ill” is incredibly broad. Anyone who would make such a broad claim simply can’t be taken seriously. But it should also be obvious that there are some forms of mental illness that really do correlate with violence and sociopathic behavior. David Mabus would be a good example, I think. And I’ve called him crazy and insane many times, because he is precisely that. But that is not an insult to everyone who has a mental illness at all because that term is just too broad. Someone who suffers from anorexia is vastly different than someone who suffers from Mabus’ problems. The fact that they both fall under this immense category of “mental illness” means very little. And calling that person insane is certainly not intended to be an insult at anyone who also falls under that incredibly broad category. And I don’t think anyone who actually suffers from any of the dozens and dozens of other types of mental illness have taken it as such. I certainly hope they don’t.

  45. says

    @bananacat:

    Just FYI, being “PC” isn’t about avoiding bad words or trying to appease some radical leftists who you think don’t have the right to be offended without your approval. And you’re not being some awesome, badass, rule-breaker by doing things that aren’t PC; you’re just an average person with unexamined privilege.

    You’re arguing with a Dr X in your head, not the one that inhabits this world.

  46. harold says

    I would like to retroactively retract some excessively harsh words from my post immediately above.

    “They have universally been too self-righteous and pompous to listen, and in the end, I don’t really care.” Retracted. That is excessively harsh, pointlessly insulting, and makes unfounded presumptions about the mental states of others.

    Overall, my broader point stands. I don’t, personally, find terms like “crazy” very offensive.

    I do find misuse of technical psychiatric terms, the hijacking of them to serve as terms of social or political disapproval, to be offensive.

  47. says

    Regarding Stephen Fry and being “normal” or “cured”…I was involved in an online discussion group for people with Asperger’s for several years, and this was a very hot topic. Many if not most of them disdained the idea of a cure and said they would refuse it without hesitation if it existed. Some were offended by the very idea of trying to find a cure or preventative, saying that it would amount to a kind of genocide by extinguishing Aspie culture.

    It’s a tricky thing. Life is generally harder for non-neurotypical people, but at the same time for many of them it’s an identity and therefore important to preserve. The tricky part comes when they’re trying to make decisions for people other than themselves.

  48. says

    bananacat,

    Political correctness most certainly is about passing tests of radicals who are more interested in group identity signifiers than substance and true decency. P.C is a greatly overused accusation by the right, but it’s a concept invented on the left to describe the use of signifiers as shackling rules that, IMO, are bristling with the narcissism of small differences.

    Things aren’t much different on the right. Not using the signifier “God” in a Thanksgiving address can “offend” certain Christians. Signifiers divorced from awareness of common usages and context–from intent, from speaker, from audience, time, place, and attitude are really about identity politics. Words like crazy and nut clearly have non-clinical meanings which are actually their much more common usages in the language we speak.

    Somehow I actually manage to go through my work and life managing to have friends from a very wide range of backgrounds and circumstances, including friends with chronic mental health difficulties (who doesn’t), and people actually think of me is pretty sensitive and empathic.

    On a personal note, I don’t know you and your life remotely as well as you apparently think you know mine, but I would caution you about assuming whose life is the life of greater privilege, examined or unexamined. Don’t let the education fool you. It does not tell you about the life I’ve lived, the life I live, where I live, my friends, my fears, my worries and especially not about personal tragedy that has shaped my adult life in such a way that I end up viewing other people as having the privilege of living life with the presumption of a predictable world, a next time. Privilege is relative.

    The specifics are nobody’s business, but suffice it to say, though I was never inclined to live an unexamined life of privilege, I will never again be able to live an unexamined life of presumption about much of anything. Craziness and madness, one’s own and the insanity of the world, can render the best efforts to bring comforting coherence to our existence absolutely futile sometimes.

    So despite not satisfying your club rules on the use of language, I will continue to refer to being driven mad with grief, crazy with rage, nuts, out of my mind with pain and whatever else I feel useful to explain that time in my life and my experience. Those words make flesh and blood out of the reality of a long period of unremitting agony. And I think those very frank words help people to empathize with the depth of suffering and disorientation I experienced. You don’t own those words. They have uses that help people know what the hell we’re talking about sometimes.

    We live in a world that is often much more crazy than sane. We deal with people going nuts. We have crackpots in politics. I also won’t apologize for saying someone lacks a conscience or they’re a heartless bastard because it might offend psychopaths. They have a mental disorder too. So let’s not use any language that could offend them; they’re just victims of a brain disorder.

    If you actually live an examined life, you’ll notice madness all around, in all the people who are deemed sane. There are no exceptions, only a certain amount of necessary denial to forge ahead in life, but crazy is on a continuum that is part of all humanity.

    http://drx.typepad.com/psychotherapyblog/2011/09/911-memories.html

  49. Azkyroth says

    It’s a tricky thing. Life is generally harder for non-neurotypical people, but at the same time for many of them it’s an identity and therefore important to preserve. The tricky part comes when they’re trying to make decisions for people other than themselves.

    I would say the appropriate approach is twofold: ABA or similar programs to teach people on the spectrum how to function in society in a way we can understand, rather than forcing us to learn mostly the wrong lessons by painful examples the context of which we’re partially blind to; and changing the aspects of neurotypical culture that are genuinely indefensible.

  50. dingojack says

    zachariahwasson (#44) posted (in part): “… typical nasty comments about people who are *actually* mentally ill.”
    As I noted earlier ‘crazy’ refers to a behaviour, it isn’t a diagnosis.
    How could you tell if the crazy person yelling on a street corner had a mental illness, is it tattooed on their forehead?
    The behaviour can be due to many causes, some of which are mental illnesses, some are not, some are a little of both**.
    I guess my objection is your assumption that ‘crazy’ only refers to the mentally ill.
    Dingo
    —-
    * in the case of individuals. The Leaning Tower of Pisa leans at a crazy angle, a dog with rabies may behave crazily, the market might surge crazily. Clearly these aren’t to do with mental illness. (The latter is often associated with traders with high levels of testosterone. I’m sure you’re not suggesting hormone imbalances are mental illnesses) ;)
    ** just to make things even more muddy :(

  51. Aquaria says

    To me, however, nothing is worse than being depressed, so I take my pills every day. While my life isn’t perfect, it is definitely better than it was.

    I dunno. You don’t know what the MAOIs, Paxil and Zoloft did to my digestive system. It’s tough to feel good when you’re digestive system is wrecked.

  52. trav42 says

    Aquaria:

    I dunno. You don’t know what the MAOIs, Paxil and Zoloft did to my digestive system. It’s tough to feel good when you’re digestive system is wrecked.

    I totally respect your choices. You know your situation best and you know what best works for you.

    However, I went through some pretty bad pain from Depakote and perphenazine (especially the perphenazine, which for the first few months caused debilitating cramps for about a hour). In fact, the perphenazine has made me 100% lactose-intolerant. Half a gram of butter, for instance, will now make me sick for two days. I’ve had to completely change my eating habits. Lactase enzyme pills don’t work at all. For the past year my digestive system has been pretty wrecked, too.

    The lithium I take makes my hands shake so much that I can’t do much more than sign my name (and even that took a lot of practice). I have to have my husband do any longer stretches of writing than that for me.

    Every so often after I take my pills I’ll get hit with waves of nausea and it’s a struggle to keep everything down. If I throw it up I’m not allowed to take another dose and the result of missing a dose is a pretty bad migraine-like headache (at the very least–sometimes the voices and other psychoses are right there waiting, too).

    We are both unique. If I could avoid taking my meds, I would. However, to me, these side-effects (and more[1]) are way better than being depressed, violent, or psychotic. Hopefully unlike you I could actually hurt someone without meaning to.

    [1]My family doctor initially put me on sertraline, which it turns out is no good for a bipolar person. Its major side effect was to make me totally emotionless and totally sexless. When I finally saw my psychiatrist it took him a few years to get me off the sertraline. That was definitely my least favourite med, and ironically it wasn’t effective for my illness. Unfortunately, you just can’t abruptly stop taking it once you start.

  53. harold says

    Half a gram of butter, for instance, will now make me sick for two days. I’ve had to completely change my eating habits. Lactase enzyme pills don’t work at all. For the past year my digestive system has been pretty wrecked, too.

    Some medical comments –

    1) I realize that priority one is not to mess with what’s working for the depression – I’ve been depressed and I get that – but it might be possible to achieve anti-depressant benefits without these side effects.

    2) I don’t want to be pendantic and it may not matter, but this doesn’t sound like lactose intolerance. Lactase pills should make some difference, and butter contains very little lactose. I’m quite strongly lactose intolerant and I can eat moderate amounts of yogurt and some cheeses (there are people who are even more intolerant than I am, of course). This could be severe lactose intolerance, but it might be something more non-specific, or sensitivity to lipids. It may be worth knowing. You may have had a definitive diagnosis of lactose intolerance, but if not, I would suggest considering other possibilities.

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