Podcast: Policing Language in Mental Health Communities
In the first full episode of Not Crazy, we learn a little more about the new co-host, Jackie, and her history with chronic illness and depression. Gabe rants about person-first language and how nitpicking verbiage is distracting from more pressing matters in the lives of those living with mental illness. Overall, we decide that “crazy” is not a dirty word and there are other, more time-sensitive, things we should be focusing on that can benefit the mental health community.
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About The Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Policing Mental Health Language’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer-generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
NC – Ep 1 Policing Language
Gabe: [00:00:00] Welcome and you’re listening to Not Crazy with Jackie Zimmerman. She is depressed and colostomy-ized.
Jackie: [00:00:07] I don’t know if I should introduce you yet because you already got it all wrong.
Gabe: [00:00:10] I mean, you’re not depressed at the moment, but.
Jackie: [00:00:12] No, but I also am not colostomy-ized. That’s wrong. This is Gabe Howard, he’s bipolar. He also has no idea what a colostomy is. And that I don’t have one.
Gabe: [00:00:22] But you have a J bag
Jackie: [00:00:24] I have a J pouch.
Gabe: [00:00:26] What’s the difference, isn’t a pouch and a bag like the same thing?
Jackie: [00:00:29] No. A J pouch is an internalized thing made out of your small intestine, an ostomy bag is an external device made out of not your intestine.
Gabe: [00:00:41] I really think there’s a missed opportunity here. They should reverse that. They should make the external one out of your intestine. Because think of the discussion that you could have like, oh my God, what’s that? Oh, it’s my small intestines strapped to the side.
Jackie: [00:00:55] Well, actually, if you want to if you want to get technical. Although I feel like it’s a bit off-topic, however, a stoma is made out of your small intestine and does sit on the outside of your abdomen. So when you do have an ostomy, you do get to see part of your intestine on the outside of your body.
Gabe: [00:01:11] You’re fun at parties.
Jackie: [00:01:13] So weird party trick. Yeah. Yeah.
Gabe: [00:01:15] I’m really excited. Our first episode ever. We’re just getting to know each other. This is the first recording, so it’s not like we did a whole bunch of practice and then recorded our first one, which now that I think about, it would have been like a really good idea.
Jackie: [00:01:27] Probably,
Gabe: [00:01:28] Yeah
Jackie: [00:01:28] Yeah
Gabe: [00:01:28] We could have started off a lot stronger. I feel like we need a Jackie joke in there.
Jackie: [00:01:33] I don’t have one.
Gabe: [00:01:34] Make up a joke.
Jackie: [00:01:36] I can’t be joking on the spot. I’m not funny on the spot.
Gabe: [00:01:39] So you’re only funny accidentally.
Jackie: [00:01:42] Yes. Yes. Yes. When I first met my husband, I told him that I’m the funniest person he will meet. And he said, Oh, tell me a joke. And I said, I don’t tell jokes. And I was like, I don’t understand. Like, I’m just really funny, but I don’t tell jokes. So it’s like no pressure.
Gabe: [00:01:55] My ex-wife thinks that she’s funny because people are constantly laughing at her. But yeah, it’s never on purpose.
Jackie: [00:02:03] Oh.
Gabe: [00:02:03] She is being very serious and I should point out that I am good friends with my ex-wife. I mean, she was still smart enough to divorce me. This is a mental health podcast, and the reason that we picked the great Jackie Zimmerman to be the co-host of Not Crazy is because you just have such an incredible wealth of physical health knowledge. And I have such a wealth of mental health knowledge. And what we found out sort of during our preproduction and getting to know each other and interview stage is that you ignored your mental health because you were so focused on your physical health. And I ignored my physical health because I was so focused on my mental health.
Jackie: [00:02:43] Together, we could have been one whole person.
Gabe: [00:02:45] One whole person. Would we have been like short with blue hair or tall with red hair, like what would our person have been?
Jackie: [00:02:53] We would’ve been a medium with purple hair.
Gabe: [00:02:56] I want that so badly.
Jackie: [00:02:59] That’s some color theory right there.
Gabe: [00:03:01] As you know, this is the offshoot of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. That was the start of this whole idea that the idea that people with mental health issues, people living with mental illness, whether it be schizophrenia, bipolar depression or just, you know, grief or anxiety or OCD or just, shit, I had a bad day and I don’t know how to deal with it needed an outlet. They needed to hear about stuff that was important to them and not like in this nonsense self-help garbage. Oh, you’re a shitty person, but if you listen to my podcast and give me a hundred dollars, you’ll be less of a shitty person kind of way.
Jackie: [00:03:34] But if you do want to give us one hundred dollars, I wouldn’t be sad about it.
Gabe: [00:03:37] We will not turn down one hundred dollars. You can PayPal us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s not even a real PayPal address, like the money is going to go nowhere. So, so, so quick. What what’s our what’s our PayPal address, Jackie? No, just kidding. Don’t say it. Don’t say it
Jackie: [00:03:53] I think part of the will say inspiration behind this show and the direction that we’re taking is this idea that physical health and mental health are connected, but that the world doesn’t quite realize that. So there’s a lot of focus on physical health about how to keep yourself fit and great and all of this stuff. And they’re starting to become, I would say, a shift on mental health. But there still is a lack of understanding that mind-body connection. It is real. And as somebody like myself, like we mentioned, had a very rough go at physical health, not just like I wasn’t healthy and I was overweight and sad and lonely. Well, that’s not physical. But, you know, I mean, it was that like my body was eating itself and I was dying. It’s kind of this bizarre thing that you’re talking to a doctor. You still have to really push the mind-body connection. I have a medical team now that believes this, which was a huge shift from when I first was sick. And so I think the idea behind this podcast is to talk about mental health from people who obviously are mentally ill. I guess we’ll talk about that later, because I don’t really define as mentally ill, however, but not discounting the fact that a lot of people with physical disabilities, physical illness, also experience issues with their mental health and not discounting their experiences by saying, oh, well, it was just a temporary lapse of happiness in your life or it was just situational depression, like all of those are issues with mental health that are worthy of being addressed.
Gabe: [00:05:27] I love what you said, even though you have depression, even though you’ve been suicidal, even though you take medication for depression, you don’t define as mentally ill. So, for example, even though I am 42 years old, I don’t define it as 42 years old. I define as a millennial because everybody hates me. So it just seems like it fits better. And you’re probably thinking as a millennial, no gay, but you are not a millennial, just like I’m thinking. No, Jackie, you’re not mentally healthy.
Jackie: [00:05:59] Yeah, I think that’s a pretty fair assumption because I am 100 percent thinking that.
Gabe: [00:06:03] The way that we talk about mental health, mental illness, the word that we use, we see a lot of stuff on the Internet about everybody policing language. And it’s not just in mental illness. It’s not just in mental health. It’s it’s everywhere. Everybody is just fighting about, you know, person-first language. These words are offensive. I don’t identify that way. Don’t talk it this way. I’m not trying to throw that all out. Like these aren’t valid discussions because I think that there are valid discussions in there. But I think that sometimes people go too far. And speaking just in the mental health community, we have this idea that people who say things like I am bipolar are somehow being offensive
Jackie: [00:06:49] Yes.
Gabe: [00:06:49] Or people who say I’m not crazy or I am crazy or I feel crazy or I’m acting crazy like, no, no, no, we can’t say crazy.
Jackie: [00:06:57] Or even just using the word crazy like, oh, that’s crazy. You can’t say crazy. I am guilty of this. I say bananas. I don’t say crazy. Makes it feel icky. So I’ll be like, oh, that’s bananas. And it’s also because I picked up from a former co-worker who I really liked.
Gabe: [00:07:12] But here’s the problem that I have with this. We’re not doing shit to make life better for crazy people. We’re just changing what we call them. Isn’t that fantastic? We don’t have to do anything to make you well. But we’re going to give you a different name.
Jackie: [00:07:27] When we started being more p.c. and making things better for them because you can’t call them crazy. We gave them a better title, we’ll say. But then we took away all their help and support. So their lives got shittier
Gabe: [00:07:38] Do you think that people in those families feel like that’s a win? Do they really feel better that they can’t get the medical care that they or their family members need? Because after all, we’re speaking about them in a positive way. We’re not putting our money behind them in any positive way, but we’re speaking about them in a positive way.
Jackie: [00:07:58] So. No, I live in Michigan and I saw in the news the other day. We are rolling back resources for mental health. Michigan State wants to shut down funding for counselors to meet with patients via insurance. So basically in a time where Generation Z, we’re all crazy, all the little ones are running around with their lives on display and freaking out about it. That wasn’t very nice. But anyway,
Gabe: [00:08:24] You’re getting letters for that one.
Jackie: [00:08:26] I know. I’m sorry. I’m not sorry anyway.
Gabe: [00:08:28] I apologize. Wait, wait, hang on. It’s Generation Z?
Jackie: [00:08:32] Yeah.
Gabe: [00:08:32] You’re getting tweets for that one.
Jackie: [00:08:33] Yeah,
Gabe: [00:08:33] You’re getting insta pictures for that one.
Jackie: [00:08:36] They’re going to Snapchat me, but joke’s on them, I’m not Snapchat. But there’s this there’s this huge focus. I mean, all the psychologists and psychiatrist are saying we are about to have a mental health epidemic on our hands with this next generation. And meanwhile, our legislatures like cut the funding. We’re fine.
Gabe: [00:08:52] We’ll be right back after this message from our sponsor.
Jackie: [00:08:55] And we’re back talking about why crazy is not an offensive word.
Gabe: [00:08:59] I’m always going to say things, quote unquote, correct. You know, I’m going to say died by suicide rather than committed suicide. I understand how person first language works living with bipolar or living with schizophrenia. I understand all of these things because. Well, I’ve been educated. I’m right in the thick of things. You might not know this, but I have a podcast.
Jackie: [00:09:19] You have a couple podcasts.
Gabe: [00:09:21] I do, I do, and they’re fantastic, but I didn’t start out this way. And could you imagine if Gabe Howard from 20 years ago would have gotten the courage fuck. Could you imagine if Gabe Howard from 20 years ago would have gotten the balls to stand up and say, hey, something is wrong with me. I am crazy. I am screwed up. And the response to that would have been, “Gabe, but no. You’re a person who is living and currently experiencing a mental health issue. You’re saying it all wrong.” You know how much gumption and courage it takes to admit that you’re crazy. And instead of helping me with that, they corrected my language.
Jackie: [00:10:05] I can’t relate to that necessarily because my issues with depression and anxiety didn’t start until my mid 20s when I was an adult and supposed to be living my life and being great. And then I got sick in my life just like tanked really fast. I lost my job. I was dying all that jazz, you know, that fun stuff. But I didn’t even really have the opportunity to sort of declare that I was depressed. I just got there real fast and it got real bad, real fast. And there was no talking to people to get help. It was just this is a crisis immediately. We need to jump on this before there’s nothing left to jump on. So I remember one time I was really, really sick and I was really, really depressed. And I was definitely planning my suicide. And I went to my doctor for a regular checkup and my dad drove me because I wasn’t able to drive myself. And the doctor was like, we need to get you inpatient like right now. I was like, but I have this day planned with my dad. And he drove me here. And I really just want to spend the day with my dad. And she basically was like, well, if you’re going to stay with your dad, that’s fine. And in hindsight, I’m like, was that the right decision? I’m still here. So I guess it worked out fine. But the idea of I guess that was me asking for help or asking for definition or asking for someone to give me something. And she was like, here with your dad, it’s cool. Mind you, I was twenty five. It’s not like I was 16. But it was weird to me that she was willing to let somebody who just said, I am suicidal and very, very, very depressed because my life is getting worse with my sickness. Just go home. She was all right bye
Gabe: [00:11:43] There’s so much to discuss in that statement. You actually use the correct words. You said, I’m suicidal, I’m depressed and still you got sent home. So imagine what would have happened if you would have walked in and said, I’m crazy and I’m going to kill myself,
Jackie: [00:12:01] Yeah.
Gabe: [00:12:01] Especially as a woman. You know, listen, women and millennials at that are always labeled dramatic. So if you would have said, I hate my life, I want to kill myself, but I want to die. And they would’ve been like, oh, god, another woman with blue hair and tattoos screaming that she wants to die. It’s unfortunate, but the care that people with mental illness get is just so incredibly dependent on stereotypes. It’s so incredibly dependent on the amount of money that we have. They always say that the difference between crazy and eccentric is a million dollars.
Jackie: [00:12:36] Whoo! Good one.
Gabe: [00:12:38] But why? You realize that some of these famous artists throughout history that we look at, Andy Warhol is my favorite. This guy was fucking nuts. He literally boxed up his tissues and toilet paper and required them to be warehoused. But he was eccentric. He was unique.
Jackie: [00:13:00] Well, and I would also argue in the same same category of millionaire. He gave the world art so they can say, look at his beautiful art. Artists are eccentric versus me or you. I mean, technically, I have an art degree, but I don’t really do art. So his value was high because he was an artist. So his crazy didn’t matter because he was valuable.
Gabe: [00:13:21] And when does that shift? When does that shift over? Like, for example, if you start making art tomorrow. Jackie, I’m going to assume that you’re not going to become Andy Warhol. No offense. Just no offense.
Jackie: [00:13:33] None taken.
Gabe: [00:13:34] But you are creating art. So does this mean that we’re going to allow you to wipe your ass, put it in a box and store it in your garage and we’ll just call you eccentric? Or are the people listening to this thinking, that’s bat shit crazy. Saving that is disgusting and sick and that person needs help. But Andy Warhol not only did that. He paid people to do it for him. He just
Jackie: [00:13:58] Well, that’s where the money comes in.
Gabe: [00:13:59] He just putut the box. And now, all these years later, we open up these boxes and sort through them. And we’re finding fascinating things in there,
Jackie: [00:14:09] Like shit.
Gabe: [00:14:09] Like Polaroids of Marilyn Monroe, and shit.
Jackie: [00:14:13] Well, this is this is the perfect storm trifecta of the appropriate type of crazy. The I contributed to the world. I have a lot of money and I’m crazy. And if you are missing any of those pieces, I don’t think it works. I don’t think you get to be Andy Warhol. If you’re not rich or you’re not an artist.
Gabe: [00:14:33] So it means that we’re not policing the behavior anymore. And that’s my entire point. We’re not looking at the behavior. We’re looking at the person and then the behavior. This behavior is OK if you’re Andy Warhol. This behavior is not OK. If you’re Gabe Howard, but this behavior becomes OK again. If you’re homeless suffering from schizophrenia and we’re OK with letting you freeze to death under a bridge because after all, get a job, lazy ass.
Jackie: [00:15:00] Well, because now you’re doing the opposite. You’re not contributing. You’re doing the opposite, you’re hurting us. So we don’t need to help you.
Gabe: [00:15:06] Shame on you and your homelessness.
Jackie: [00:15:08] Right. This is your fault.
Gabe: [00:15:10] The discussion surrounding severe and persistent mental illness is almost non-existent until a crisis point happens. The discussion surrounding mental health and mental health crises are starting to to happen in a productive way. But we have all of these external forces that are trying to control the narrative by controlling the words. The example that I get all the time, as I say, my name is Gabe. I’m bipolar. And people immediately look at me and say, no, you’re not. You’re so much more than just bipolar, Gabe. You’re a person to which I respond. Yeah, I know that. Do you think so little of me that you think that? I think that I’m just bipolar. Also, why are you hearing the word just. I said I’m Gabe. I’m bipolar. And what you heard was, I’m Gabe. I’m just bipolar. Why did you feel like you needed to add that word? If I would have said I’m Gabe, I’m married. Would you have said, oh, my God, you’re so much more than just a husband? If I would have said, my name is Gabe, I’m a father. Oh, my God, you’re so much more than just a father. Come on. If you introduce yourself. Hi, I’m Jackie. I work with Gabe. Do you think anybody would say, oh, my God, Jackie, you do so much more than just work with Gabe. You are much more than that. And if they did say that, would you reply? Oh, my God. I didn’t realize that I had more worth than just my partnership. The bipolar dude I met on the internet. How effective is that? Isn’t that mansplaining? It’s like mental illness plaining.
Jackie: [00:16:37] It is, and it actually goes across condition areas, whether it’s mental illness, physical disability, chronic illness, this kind of thing is rampant everywhere. I’ve been doing a lot of research in the physical disability space research meaning, I follow a lot of people on Twitter who are talking about this and how people are working really hard to remove the term sort of. I am disabled from their vocabulary and the people these advocates in the disability space are saying why you are disabled like that. That is part of who you are. And by removing it. It’s adding the stigma that it’s bad to be disabled. So by saying I’m disabled, that means we all think it’s bad. So you identify that way. So we think you’re bad. So we don’t like you because you’re disabled. And I think that this goes across the board and mental illness or chronic illness. For example, I have multiple sclerosis. I don’t identify as disabled because of that, which is another weird. You know, what I identify as is becoming apparently clear that I don’t identify in any of the right ways, but I have multiple sclerosis. I’ve always said that the phrase I have multiple sclerosis, it doesn’t have me drives me fucking insane. I hate that shit because the thing is, I do have it. I will always have it. It’s not going to go away. Is it all that I am? No. Like you said, it’s not. I think the move to do this. The idea was to do the I am not just this. That was the idea behind person first phrasing was I’m not just to this one thing, but by changing it, we are actually removing the power by identifying this way. And I’m not gonna say I feel powerful when I say I have M.S. or I have ulcerative colitis or I have depression or I have anxiety, should I keep going? And all the things that I have, I’m not going to say.
Gabe: [00:18:22] We don’t have that kind of time.
Jackie: [00:18:23] I don’t feel more powerful when I say that it’s not a conscious decision, but it just seems silly to me to beat around the bush to say I’m a person with or I have been diagnosed with. No, I have it. End of story. It’s faster. It’s I guess it’s it’s a more compact way of saying it. And I’m all about getting shit done fast.
Gabe: [00:18:40] For me, it’s just about wanting to define my own life. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I remember Gabe at Wales. I was a fat, little pimply faced, four eyed, braces having, redhead.
Jackie: [00:18:56] Face only a mother could love.
Gabe: [00:18:58] Oh, my God. I don’t even think my mother loved it, to be honest. She was just like, oh, my God. He’s adopted. I was. My parents just I don’t know. And I’ve long since lost the point of this entire story.
Jackie: [00:19:13] Let me reel it in for you. I got this. Ready. So the experiences of young Gabe led you to this point. You did not have a diagnosis to to, I guess, attribute some of your behaviors to. Now you do. And the lack of, let’s say, attention to that or treatment of that, develop some behaviors in you that took you into adulthood and took you into this space where you want to advocate for bipolar, which also puts you in a space to be a well-known advocate for bipolar, which I think means to some extent does make bipolar a huge part of who you are. And part of your identity. I feel the same way. Like as an advocate for M.S. and you see and I have been in this space for 14 years. When people say I have a message doesn’t have me or, you know, I’m more than just M.S., nope. This is a huge part of me. I make my career. I’m talking about having these things like if I didn’t have these things, I wouldn’t be here. I would be talking about it. It’s not the only part of my identity, but it is a huge part of who I am. I make money on it. It’s a massive part of who I am.
Gabe: [00:20:21] I thought you you’re gonna say you make massive money and I was about to hit you up for a loan.
Jackie: [00:20:24] No. No.
Gabe: [00:20:25] So, I’m sorry that.
Jackie: [00:20:26] I don’t. Let me correct that. I do not make massive money on this. I just make some money on this.
Gabe: [00:20:32] I’m not trying to get the whole world to use the correct language so that people can get help. I’d much rather focus on what people are actually saying. I read this fascinating article that said that if your child says they have a stomach ache all the time and by child, you know, like, you know, four, six, eight. But if your child is constantly saying, I have a stomach ache, they might not actually have stomach problems, they might have anxiety. But kids don’t have the words for anxiety. They don’t have the words for nerves. They don’t have the words for panic or paranoia. What they do have are the words to describe stomach ache. I feel that it would be much better to educate the parents and the adults that I have a stomach ache could mean these other things. That person first language really strikes me as no, no, no, no, no. We have to teach a 4 year old to say, Mama, Poppa, I’m having a serious anxiety problem or possibly panic or paranoia, and I must see my mental health specialist as quickly as possible. I think that people lie awake at night and think they’re going crazy. I think people lie awake at night and cry and wish they were dead. I don’t think that people lie awake at night and wonder about the state of their mental health. I don’t think that’s the way that our brains work. I don’t think those are the words in our internal monologue. I don’t think that’s the way that we talk to our friends and our family when we’re desperate and in those vulnerable, vulnerable moments. And if we wipe out all that talk, what’s left? These people are not going to be able to get help because we will not recognize their words or worse, we’ll spend our time correcting them rather than helping them. It stifles.
Jackie: [00:22:10] And on top of the issue with children. So, yes, children do not have these words. But let’s be real people who are not highly educated, affluent and have money for therapy and doctors may also not have these words.
Gabe: [00:22:22] Oh, yeah.
Jackie: [00:22:22] So we’re not just isolating small ones with tiny vocabularies. We’re isolating a large portion of the country we live in who does not have access to care, does not have a great education, does not have higher education. All of these things that give us the verbiage to say what you just said, it’s part of why we nameed the show “Not Crazy.” It’s part of why we did and probably will get more pushback on using the term crazy when talking about people with mental illness. It all comes down to words have weight. If we give them weight. So if you’re offended by crazy, use a different word. If you’re not offended by crazy. More power to you. Here’s the thing. I am a 34 year old suburban, white, straight hetero woman. I’ve got privilege coming out of my ears, which in today’s day and age means I am offended by everything. I’m offended for you. I’m offended by you. All these people I don’t even know. I take offense for them because it’s like my duty in the world we live in right now. I am not offended by the word crazy. And I think part of that is because that’s the word a lot of people know. It’s how they can explain what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking. And if people who don’t identify with mental illness use the term crazy in a way that does not talk about mental illness, it’s not even related to mental illness. Who cares? Right now, I feel like we have bigger issues in the world than whether or not the word crazy is offensive.
Gabe: [00:23:50] And one of those issues is that people with severe and persistent mental illness are literally freezing to death every winter. I don’t really think they care what you call them as long as they can get access to shelter, food and medical care. I’d really love to see us put our resources there rather than policing language.
Jackie: [00:24:10] Snaps. I agree.
Gabe: [00:24:12] But hey, I can’t wait for the day that we have so much money that everybody with a mental health issue gets the help that they need. Everybody fully understands and there’s literally nothing left but to argue about language. And that’s what the Internet was made for. We’re just ahead of our time. Jackie, this was fun. Did you have a good time hosting your first episode of Not Crazy?
Jackie: [00:24:36] I did. I look forward to talking about crazies, myself included. Maybe by the end of this whole thing I will identify as mentally ill. I don’t know, TBD.
Gabe: [00:24:46] We’ll see what we can do for you. All right, listen, everybody, this is our first episode of the Not Crazy podcast. We would love it if you would share us on social media. Post a message if you have any questions you’d like to ask us. You can hit up the same email address. The new Web site for the show is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. You can find us on every single podcast player. And as we say goodbye to A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast, you now have a bipolar, a millennial and a podcast. Frankly, I think we were doing better with the schizophrenic. We’ll see everybody next week.
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Podcast, N. (2019). Podcast: Policing Language in Mental Health Communities. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-policing-language-in-mental-health-communities/