Using Crazy Language – A Lesson

Joe and Kristen have been friends for several years, and met online. While they talk frequently about a number of philosophical theories, one of the things that Joe has learned from Kristen is about the nature of using crazy language – or the language of mental illness. 

Kristen stands outside next to Joe - who talks about using crazy language in this post

If there is anything that sticks out amongst the number of lessons that my friendship with Kristen has taught me over the years, it is the aspect of calling things “crazy” in daily conversations.

Nod with me if you’ve used any of these phrases:

“I’m just so crazy right now with e-mails.”
“Did you see the line at the coffee shop? Craziness.”
“I can’t believe I got accepted to present at a national conference, crazy right?”
“You know what’s crazy? The results of the election. That’s crazy.”

Where does crazy language come from?

The origin of the word “crazy” dates back to the 1500s. At that time, people used crazy to define someone that was diseased or sickly. It was also used to describe someone that was “full of cracks or flaws” in those times (according to the Online Etymology Dictionary). Does that sound like a word you’d use to try and describe something in a positive light?

You see, the meaning of the word crazy ties directly to how we interpret mental health. If we are so comfortable labeling a line of people, a full inbox, or a meeting agenda as “crazy,” how much are we marginalizing those who suffer and live with mental illness? Those who, years ago and even now, may be described as “full of cracks or flaws” or “diseased?”

Using crazy language marginalizes mental illness

As a result, I’ve stopped using the word “crazy” in conversation, or at least recognize when I use it. I know folks who struggle, fight and survive their battles with mental illness on a daily basis; there is nothing crazy about them. What seems absurd to me is the general disregard to mental health and wellness in our language. While we are seemingly heightening our awareness around language, we still consider mental health and wellness an “other” topic and not a main topic of discussion.

Unfortunately, it seems that mental health and wellness is following the path of diversity. I see this at conferences, human resource orientations, graduate school, college and even high school. During undergrad and professional involvement as a new member of higher education, diversity was the must-have training for every department, experience or conference. Whatever it was, everything seemed to use the word “diversity.” As you can see in many aspects of today’s world, the success of that is questionable depending on how you look at it.

I fear the same for mental health, illness and wellness. I fear society will say we’ve talked about it or researched it – but will we ever act on it? Will we ever change as a result of it?

The impact of using crazy language

I want to return to how I have changed because of my friendship with Kristen. It’s not just about me becoming aware of the word “crazy” and the meaning and impact it can have when used. It’s the fact that she took the time to educate me on the impact of it, both in terms of her and society, without being on a soap box, without giving a lecture, without shaming and without any sense of superiority. She never had an attitude of “I’ve lived it, so I’m the expert.” She did it by being herself.

Next time you start to describe something as “crazy,” try associating it with a friend who has mental illness. How does that sound? Something tells me that saying, “My inbox is so Kristen right now” might permanently shift your perspective and give you a moment of pause and reflection that many of us need daily.

Editor’s note: For more suggestions on how to change every “crazy talk,” make sure to check out our Toolkit for additional resources!

About the Author

Joe Ginese does some amazing stuff with new student orientation at CUNY-Borough of Manhattan Community College, but what he does even better is inspire people. Seriously – ask around; we bet you’ll find a higher ed professional here and there who has learned something from Joe. He thinks big, supports his friends, and he loves his family.

Mental Illness as a Higher Education Professional

As a both a friend and colleague of Kristen’s, Laura Pasquini took a few minutes to share in a podcast how important it is to be open about having mental illness as a higher education professional.

Transcript from Laura’s Podcast

At the 2015 ACPA Convention I was impressed how you take and share more about your personal experience in dealing with mental illness in your PechaKucha talk. I was inspired, Kristen, about the way you shared yourself and continue to #StompOutStigma for mental health awareness. Not only has your effort brought about advocacy for peers in higher education, it has also made others think broadly about the way we discuss issues of mental health for practitioners who work in the post-secondary environment.

Prior to this brief, but important, talk you had shared a little about yourself and your mental illness with myself and a few select few friends and peers in our shared personal learning network. Once this talk was recorded and uploaded to YouTube, it has become an even more impactful way to initiate the taboo conversation around issues of depression, suicide, and more. A number of our peers look to you, Kristen, for making this difficult topic more open and approachable –and I can see both the direct and indirect way your sharing about mental illness issues has impacted others in higher ed.

Kristen, I love how the Committed book and now The Committed Project has become a platform for open discussion. It’s amazing to see how you have transformed this online space into an educational resource and tool for awareness to help dismantle myths and misconceptions about mental illness. I’m not sure our relationship has changed all that much, personally; however, I know your ability for being REAL about this topic has let down a few barriers that our peers and colleagues can now feel open and okay about bringing these issues out of the dark. Thank you for this. Mental illness and issues shared by The Committed project provides a starting point for conversations on our campuses and among colleagues in a field of “helpers” who often don’t take care of themselves first. I am thankful for the community and conversations that you have instigated among peers and challenges you continue to push forward as we consider how to better support staff we work with. Conversations about mental illness does not occur enough – yet you frequently remind us it needs to, before it is too late. Thanks for doing that, Kristen. And thanks for thinking about us first.

About the Author

Laura Pasquini is pretty much the bomb. If it has something to do with technology and teaching, she is all over that. Kristen considers her a kindred soul when it comes to loving and being the person we are 24/7 – even when we’re online, or maybe especially when we’re online. She also co-hosts a couple awesome podcasts – BreakDrink and #3WeduWe heart her commitment to The Committed Project.

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