The Prevalence of “Nuts”

One of my strongest memories from the mental hospital, explained in a scene in my upcoming book, Committed, is what happened when I used a poor choice of words in front a group of the other patients. I commented on the awful food at the hospital, saying, “Doesn’t that just drive you nuts?”

All of them flinched. The effect of my words was immediately apparent: I had wounded them. I apologized profusely, and then my roommate said something I’ll never forget: “Don’t worry, we’re used to it.”

It took me a few moments to realize what, exactly, they were used to: the prevalence of “nuts,” or, rather, the misuse of words that could apply to them. “Nut” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a foolish, eccentric, or crazy person.” Words like crazy, nuts, and psycho are often misused, and stigmatize people who actually suffer from mental illnesses. I admit that, now, every time I hear the word crazy in public, I, too, flinch. There are so many more precise words to be used rather than just defaulting to the standard “nuts.”

crazy

Credit to flickr.com user Delete. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Just like people don’t use the word “retard” to describe mental handicaps anymore, I contend that “nuts” is equally harming and ablest. “Crazy” and other terms usually don’t refer to actual psychotic people, but are used to dismiss the way people–mostly girls and women–feel. When “crazy” is used to describe irrational, frightening behaviors, it wounds people who suffer from mental illnesses by making them feel as if their disorder is out of control. These words have power, and that power is used to isolate people by making them feel abnormal–in a bad way. Mental illness is not the reason behind all bad behaviors. Plenty of neurotypical people can be jerks.

Here is a great list of words to use instead of insane or psycho, such as “naive, mistaken, confused, misled, misinformed, uninformed, [and] ignorant.” The author, Jennifer Kesler, also points out that a job or weather cannot be “schizo” or “bipolar.” Only a person can be those things, and saying they have bipolar is more correct than “is” bipolar, because you don’t want to define them by their illness.

Many people who suffer from mental illnesses don’t feel hurt when this language is misused, and even call themselves crazy. But others do feel attacked by it. I don’t mean to police language, but if one can avoid harming people who feel this way, then why not?

Have you been called crazy before?

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About Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs at The Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. She is currently working on Committed, her forthcoming memoir detailing her time spent in a mental hospital while separated from her husband and newborn. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism, and is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.
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5 Responses to The Prevalence of “Nuts”

  1. dyane says:

    Brilliant post, Cass!

    It brought up so much for me that I could write a post about it, but I’ll spare you!
    (Plus, dinner beckons and this gal is hungry! πŸ˜‰

    I used to have a big problem with the “C” word. Crazy. Well, I was fine when Seal had a hit song about it, that is, but that was before my diagnosis!

    When the local paper included a “Letter to the Editor” that used “crazy” in a totally un-p.c. way, I wrote a rebuttal in anger, deleting the f-bombs, of course, and it got printed the following week. πŸ™‚

    But now “crazy” doesn’t bug me so much. Weird, eh?

    However, I didn’t relinquish another pet peeve: when people refer to the weather as “bipolar.” C’mon, folks, step on board the Sensitivity Train! Read Jennifer Kesler’s list! I bet most of these people who exclaim their “car is acting bipolar” or whatever don’t have bipolar, but who knows?

    I’m trying to be much less reactive when people write or say “I’m bipolar.”
    That used to make me want to scream like a banshee with exasperation.

    I realize that to many people who have bipolar, it’s a non-issue, and I can’t get all defrosted about it. Easier said than done! We don’t say “I’m cancer” – that’s one reason I feel “I’m bipolar” is not the greatest expression. I also believe that since words are so powerful, to say “I’m bipolar” gives too much power to the mood disorder and it takes away from one’s identity on a subconscious level. Does that make any sense? πŸ˜‰

    • That makes total sense, Dyane! “I’m bipolar” gives all the power to the mood disorder, so I feel you. I highly doubt that people who say something inanimate is acting bipolar actually suffer from bipolar disorder. People who have bipolar disorder tend to be more sensitive in their language–or they learn to be so quickly!

      And you can write posts in my comment box at any time!

  2. dyane says:

    p.s. I lied about my promise not to write the equivalent of a post – please forgive me!

  3. Raegina says:

    I agree with language being really important and I always slip up. I used to teach disability education and we all over the language as my dad had a disability so it hit hard when people used the wrong terms. One time a student teacher said something we wrong with people with disability and I lost my shit. I can understand the reactions from abled people and I guess the term nuts would bring up sensations and memories for some people like it did for me. Feel free to pick on my language if it comes up. Thanks for​ writing 😊😊

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