On the evening of Tuesday, November 10th, I was knitting and watching “Jeopardy” with family after dinner.
The answer for the movie Black Swan was “ballerina goes bonkers.” I couldn’t believe my ears (or eyes). As if I weren’t stunned enough, when I said that the clue was offensive, my feelings were disregarded as unreasonable.
“It’s just alliteration,” one person said, “Why are you making a big deal out of it?”
“Because she was ill,” I replied, “not ‘bonkers.’”
Be honest with yourself: how many times have you uttered words or phrases steeped in stigma without even thinking about it? A lot of those words and phrases probably have to do with mental illness.
“Your hair looks crazy!”
“The store was having a sale, so we went a little nuts.”
“Don’t pay any attention to him; he’s insane!”
Seemingly harmless statements, certainly with no intentional malice, but do these words hurt people living with a mental illness? Of course, they do, if indirectly. Every time one of these phrases or words is given life, people become a little more desensitized to what mental illness really is. Words like these make many people living with a mental illness afraid to step out of the shadows and admit that they have a mental illness. While cancer survivors are willing to stand and be counted, most of us hide, even though fighting our illnesses takes just as much strength and resilience. Why is that?
Some say the media is to blame, but I believe that our small steps (in whichever direction) can help to turn the tide. It wasn’t so very long ago that it was common to refer to people with developmental disabilities as “retards.” Why can’t those of us living with mental illness expect the same courtesy: the retiring of hurtful words? I know that’s a big ask that will take a long time, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable.
As for what mental illness really is… it is not necessarily the perpetrator of every massacre in a school, movie theater or city street. We’re only quick to label the perpetrator “crazy” because his or her actions are irrational and we need a context in which to understand them. Real mental illness is a beloved family member who has bipolar disorder, your friendly postal carrier who suffers from depression, maybe even you. And, of course, me. And I’m not crazy.
by Sherone Rogers
Blog posts are written by Shore House members and staff.