“I have a crazy commute.”
“With three kids under five, my life is crazy right now.”
“I have an insane workload at my job.”
“My schedule is crazy; I get up at 4:30am, and don’t get out of class until 9:30pm.”
“I’ve been in school… wow, three years now! Isn’t that crazy?”
These are all things I heard tonight, during intros in class as the new quarter started. “Crazy” (and its progenitor-twin “insane”) is used incessantly by so many. It’s our culture’s catch-all for bad, or overwhelming, or chaotic; it’s an amplifier, with bad or neutral or even good connotations, depending on tone and context; and it’s what we use when we don’t know what else to say, how else to respond (“I got these shoes for only $5! Can you believe it?” “Woah, that’s crazy!”). I encounter this online as well, to be sure, but it didn’t occur to me until tonight how much less the circles I travel in use it, and how much easier it is online to say “um, please stop.”
Because I want it to stop.
I want you to stop.
What? Why? You must be crazy if you think I’m going to stop using crazy!
Because your commute might be long, your life might be chaotic, your workload might be stressful or heavy or overwhelming, your schedule might be unbearable, the length of time you’ve been in school might be longer than typical, but I promise, none of them are crazy. None of them have a mental illness, none of them are neurodivergent, none of them are emovatypical, none of them have been diagnosed with a mood disorder. Not one of those things is crazy. I am crazy. They are things you want to complain or exclaim about. And I am not your prop.
But that’s just nuts! I don’t mean actually insane. You don’t know anything about metaphor!
Metaphor, noun: a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.
In what way does your commute-life-job-workload-schedule resemble me, exactly? Is your job buxom and great in bed? Is your commute witty and clever? Is your life a talented writer, opinionated, have a taste for bad puns and worse sci fi shows? No? I didn’t think so.
But I didn’t mean those things about you! I meant your craziness! I mean, craziness in general!
Yeah. You meant this integral part of me, parsed out, isolated, dehumanized, de-person-ified. You meant my badness, my overwhelmingness, my stressfulness, perhaps? You meant this aspect of me which you don’t understand, and don’t care to think about the reality of. You meant this thing about me that you are going to ascribe meaning to, regardless of how I feel about it, regardless of the meaning it has in my own life, regardless of whether I think of it as a thing at all.
Why are you taking this so personally? I’m not even talking about you!
Of course you’re not. I’m sure you don’t mean to say anything bad about me. I used “crazy” the way you do not that long ago, too; I get it. But why are you taking so personally my statement of preference that this word wielded against me so cruelly not also be used so casually to mean anything you want it to mean? I’m not attacking you; I’m telling you how this word wounds me.
Now you’re just being melodramatic. Don’t you have bigger things to worry about?
Sure. I have mental health disparity because of racism and other bigotries, and exorbitant prices of prescription drugs, and insurance that won’t cover the medicines that work for me, and mental health wards closing, and overcrowding and dehumanizing protocols in the ones still open, and cops shooting people they know are unwell, and mental health used as an excuse to take away our kids, and a lack of effective treatments, and a terrifying mortality rate that people treat as a dishonoring failure in morality. I got lots of bigger stuff to worry about.
And I have this. This one teeny, tiny, paper cut of an issue, which I encounter a dozen, a hundred times a day. This minute, puny little issue that does nothing, except hurt me infinitesimally in isolation, infinitely in combination. This one so easy to overlook aspect of an entire culture that hates me and devalues me and dehumanizes me and degrades me and dismisses me and uses me for a punching bag and as a punchline. It is one tiny word used a million times a day that reflects and reinforces the culture that is responsible for all that bigger stuff, which I am impotent to dismantle. So you’ll excuse me if I sometimes address something not so big.
You’re taking words away from me! This is censorship!
Oh, would that I had that power. I’m not sure I would use it, but it’s fun to imagine.
I am taking nothing from you. I have no power to deny you the use of any words. I don’t even wish to have “crazy” stricken from your vocabulary. I only ask, and I ask only, that you think about how you use it, and maybe start reaching for different words sometimes.
But what else am I supposed to use?
I don’t know. What are you trying to say? How about: chaotic, overwhelming, wonderful, awful, surprising, unbearable, untenable, unbelievable, unorganized, ecstatic, hectic, really, very, muchly, heavy, excessive, sublime, supreme, crowded, distressing, disgusting, irrational, irritating, ignorant, great, good, or simply bad? You might be amazed how much bigger your functional vocabulary is by reducing your use of this one little word.
That’s too much work! Can’t you just deal with it?
I can deal with it. I can shrug, and roll my eyes, and let it slide off my back, and take a deep breath, and laugh it off, and let it go. I can do this a dozen times a day. But a hundred? My shoulders and my eyes are getting tired, my back is getting bruised, I’m starting to hyperventilate, I don’t much feel like laughing, and I can’t get rid of it for all I try to.
Why must I do all the dealing, all the coping, all the work? Why can’t you do some for a while?
But I’m crazy too, and I don’t care!
Yeah, neither did I. Except the part of me did, the part of me that internalized that to be crazy meant to be chaotic-bad-inhuman-devalued. The part of me that said that maybe it was just as well, that I deserved the names, that I deserved to be treated as less-than. When I started letting go of that part, so long hidden, the rest of me started caring.
Maybe it isn’t the same for you. Maybe you can exist in a world that tries to cut you a hundred times a day and not be damaged. Maybe you have an infinite ability to laugh it off. Maybe you have Kevlar skin.
I don’t. Doesn’t that matter?
It’s not going to change anything, even if I stop. You’re fighting a losing battle.
If you start using other words where now you use “crazy”, it’s going to make my life that little much more kind. If you start thinking about the words you use and noticing the words other people use, it’s going to make you a better person. If you start asking other people to change the words they use, and challenge the attitudes those words reflect, it’s going to spread the message. If you use this new awareness to pay attention to the headline that your local government is cutting mental health funding, that another person was shot when they should have been helped, that some politician is trying to get you to think less of another because a family member is a lot like me, and you vote differently and add your voice to the protest and make a small donation to a cause that empowers us, if you do this and ask others to do this, actually, it can change quite a lot.
I don’t expect the use of all degrading metaphors to cease in my lifetime, and possibly not in any lifetime. But I have to believe, and have reason to believe, that the world can be better for our working for it.
But I don’t want to think about all the hurt I’ve caused. And I know I’m not going to be able to stop right away!
Neither do I, and neither did I, I promise. Our whole life our entire culture has told us that this is ok, that using one person’s pain for our convenience is right and proper. But now you know better. Now you have an opportunity to do better, to at least try, and keep trying, until it becomes habit, and easy, and you wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
No one is asking or expecting that you do it all at once. Just that you try. And I bet you’ll succeed, because it is just a tiny little word.
So now we have option A: Yeah, whatever, you nutter.
And option B: …I guess.
You can be a perfectly lovely person and go with A. I did, when I first had the choice, and pleasantly for me the friends who had this discussion with me didn’t kick me to the curb. And I won’t if you do the same now.
But I hope you’ll pick B. Will you?