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The Circus Arrives Without Warning...

The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it...

It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

Every so often whilst I peruse the shelves of my local bookstore I come across a book cover that draws me in. I may pick it up and read the blurb, make a mental note of the author, or I may appreciate the illustrator's skill and leave it at that. I did this several times with Erin Morgenstern's 'The Night Circus'.

"And then she just turned crazy"

On Talking about the taboo

Recently I told my flatmate what I thought of the word ‘crazy’ in the context of mental illness. Soon after, he told me that he doesn’t say it anymore, and when he hears it, he challenges its use. And now his friend doesn’t use it either. And this gave me an idea.

I’m giving this whole blogging thing a go.

“Apparently artistic people are more likely to go crazy”, said a very caring and good friend of mine, genuinely intrigued by this statement. I told her I didn’t know what she meant, and I think she thought I was being unnecessarily critical and pedantic. Another friend of mine argued that “everyone knows what it means, it’s just a useful way of communicating”. Personally, I find this worrying as I believe that the term ‘crazy’ doesn’t have a behavioural referent. Seeing it as a useful communicator perpetuates a stereotypical and incorrect image of those suffering from mental health conditions.

Firstly, it groups every mental health problem into one category. As with physical health problems, there is a wide variety of symptoms and severity within mental disorder. Secondly, the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of ‘crazy’ – ‘mad, especially as manifested in wild or aggressive behaviour' is so unapt that it would be comical if it wasn’t so damaging. This description is so far from the fatigued nature of depression, to the social withdrawal often exhibited in schizophrenia, to the internal struggle that characterises so many disorders - eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder to name a few. Many people do not understand mental disorders, or know who around them is mentally ill, partly because the struggle is so often within the person. Yet, many people still maintain that ‘crazy’, defined by ‘wild and aggressive behaviour’ is in fact a suitable word. To me, this is nonsensical.

“But people who are mentally ill refer to themselves as crazy so they can’t mind that much” said another friend, who seems so often to play devil’s advocate. But the point is that people suffering, perhaps struggling with the demands of everyday life, shouldn’t feel as if they have to label themselves as ‘crazy’. Not only is it hurtful and possibly damaging to recovery, it is incorrect. It is not their word, it is society’s.

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