Sunday, April 4, 2021

The Craziness of Encountering Crazy People Who Don't Exist

I had lunch a while back with a mentally ill guy. And I was completely taken aback when he started spouting craziness.

We've really boxed ourselves in with our language meshugas here in Euphemism World. Who'd expect a "mentally ill" person, facing certain "challenges", to spew outright craziness? One doesn't expect craziness from the mentally ill. One expects neatly compartmentalized, non-stigmatizable mental illness. Because that's what we call it.
Hi there, I'm Canadian, brunette, Pisces, mildly athletic, and mentally ill! So tell me a little about yourself!
You don't expect craziness because there's no such thing. Crazy people don't exist. So when a crazy person sat before me at lunch, it seemed unexpectedly....ugly. Much as the word "crazy" is ugly. "Crazy" truthfully describes the ugly prattle coming out of his mouth. And if you can't say so, or even think it, you'll feel shocked when something very much fitting that non-existent and totally not-okay word materializes before your lying eyes. The disjoint, in fact, makes the encounter much more jarring. It's, well, crazy...and that's just, well, crazy!

As a society we may nobly strive to sweep stigma under the cognitive/linguistic rug, but then one day you'll encounter some bona fide crazy shit, and find it as hard as I did to maintain composure while insouciantly swirling Sauvignon blanc and daintily tooth-scraping artichoke scuzz. It all grinds to a halt. We're lost without the availability of the word we're never supposed to utter upon encountering the thing we're never supposed to acknowledge. Reality startles the dreamer.

This is a horridly poor outcome for crazy (ouch) people. Because if the reality of how they behave is so awful as to be excluded from polite conversation, where, exactly, does that leave them? What's it like when the very thing you are can't be spoken without euphemism? One gets a taste of that predicament from eggshell-walking, painfully meticulous prog-speech (I'm sick of the term "PC", which the piqued canned hams of Fox News have ruined for me):
"So! Jim, I understand, is of the, um, Hebraic persuasion. By which, I mean to say, he's a Jew-American, oh dear, so sorry, my denture must have slipped, a Jewish-American, and those wonderful, uh, beings are so splendidly intellectual and sarcastic! I hasten to note that every individual Jew - sorry, er, Jewish-American - is of COURSE unique, so I'm not attempting to generalize here, but...."
Even this relatively mild form of word mincing leaves me wanting to book de-circumcision surgery and rhinoplasty, and to eat nothing but pork chops dunked in mayonnaise for the rest of my life. I'm driven to self-denial, if not self-obliteration, by vaguely insulting faux-tolerant (STOP ‘TOLERATING’ ME ALREADY!!!) gesturing. As I wrote here, "As a member of five or six minority groups, myself, I find myself cringing whenever I see groups to which I belong depicted or discussed with anxious care and glossy patina. What awful thing, after all, are they so carefully dancing around?!?"

It must be far worse for those whose actuality has been de-worded. What does it feel like when those enduring your crazy ravings are left struggling to recompose their tidy worldview that all's swell and you are absolutely not as crazy as you just clearly demonstrated yourself to be? Isn't that the most exclusionary possible exclusion? And isn't it also a false feedback loop? If I'm acting crazy, please, for heaven's sake, tell me! Bluntly! Don't just stare straight through me, mentally self-denying your assessment of the unthinkable thing you've totally decided I am.

If it's so imperative to create a minty fresh landscape in our collective imagination, stocked exclusively with above-average bright and untarnished souls, some of whom might face certain "challenges" - euphemizing their uncomfortable truth off the table - then what becomes of such people? Aren't they essentially purged along with their unmentionable trait? Aren't we making them, themselves, unthinkable?

It's perfectly ok to point out tallness. But shortness? YOU SHUT YOUR MOUTH RIGHT NOW. Sympathetic people deem such characterization taboo; so irredeemably awful that we must expunge the very concept. But, sweet Jesus, where does that leave short people? Personally, I don't think size is any big deal (me, I'm tall, so I hit my head a lot, and wouldn't mind shaving off half a foot and being 5'6"). It reminds me of Basil Fawlty, proprietor of a fictional provincial British hotel, desperately trying to NOT MENTION THE WAR to his German guests. Is shortness really so horrid that we can't mention it? What does this reveal about our actual feelings about short people? Doth we protest too much?

What kind of freaky funhouse ride do we force upon the anti-stigmatized? Is this a nice thing to do to, for example, crazy people? If no one can be crazy - because it's too awful to say so - then how can crazy people even go on living?

In fact, how can any of us go on living in minty-fresh Euphemism World without it taking a toll on our mental health? And if it did, how would you even know? Craziness is easily spotted, but "mental health challenges" sound like something you'd need to wait in line for a very long time at a community wellness center to assess, before primly adding the term to your bright, colorful punchcard of turn-ons, turn-offs, and charming personal peccadillos.

I'm not poorly informed. My intellectual grasp of mental illness is rather sophisticated, thanks. But language is not a purely intellectual function (if it were, writers could predetermine reader reaction like code compels computers). Language is equally an emotional channel, and every one of us has a visceral understanding of "Crazy", whether we use the word or repress it, and that deep understanding is not - by very design! - triggered by the term "mental illness".

Prohibiting vivid words only heightens their power. For example, "nigger", which had largely dissolved into corny anachronism by the early 1980s, now has been given the immense power to flip much of the nation into frothed madness via one single utterance. Why would we willingly stoke such words with such heightened power? Me, I'd rather type it over and over - nigger nigger nigger - until it decays into a meaningless musical sound with less juice, not more. See how puny and nothing it is. Let's opt out of fetishizing malicious stupidity. Nigger corn chips gall bladder prune juice hairspray! Unceremoniously grind out the stupid cigarette butt beneath your heel. It's barely worth snuffing; certainly not to be mistaken for the infernal blaze of Hell; and, for god's sake, let's not keep, like, honoring it.

Also: I've suffered from depression, OCD, and PTSD, all in long remission after lengthy regimens of yoga and exercise, followed by years of rigorous meditation (unclenching the myriad micro-contractions with which we purposefully bind ourselves). I've also had schizophrenic, paranoid, addicted, alcoholic, psychopathic, narcissistic, megalomaniac, and suicided loved ones. So its not that I lack sympathy, bokay? I'm all for sympathy, but I do not find our current modes of performative pseudo-sympathy the least bit sympathetic. I've acted crazy, you've probably acted crazy, and it's fine, we can call it what it is...if only to ensure that we don't keep stigmatizing via heavy-handed anti-stigmatization (will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?).

Woops, I forgot to actually get to the point...but corrected that here.

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