Dave's Progress. Chapter 116: Feeling Liberated.

A while ago now, I wrote a blog about political correctness and the terms which are appropriate to use when speaking of mental illness or those with experience of it. It seems to me that this is an extremely vexed question and one which, perhaps, demands a little further exploration.
As I recall, I said in my blog that pejorative words used to describe mental illness were still used with a certain banal cruelty, seemingly bandied about with relative impunity in comparison to their racial or sexual counterparts. While this is perhaps true, I pointed out that there are people within mental health circles who advocate the use of words, such as "mad" in the case of "Mad Pride", which would at first seem unsuitable. The concept of "reclaiming" words and thereby defusing their power seems to be behind this particular approach.
Indeed, the more I look at words used to describe those who experience mental ill health, such as "loony", "nutter", "bonkers", "wacko", I have come to feel that they are, in some ways, harmless. This may outrage some who feel the use of such terms to be wholly inappropriate, but the more I have been involved with fighting the use of inappropriate language, the more I realise that these terms are, in fact, nothing to do with me. They do not describe, in any way, the illness or symptoms I have experienced. So, I can separate my own experience from such language, and have come to regard it, because it has "nothing to do with me", as almost harmless and even vaguely humorous. Indeed, there is one group of service users who actually revel in such terms and embrace them. They feel that words like "bonkers" are actually quite "cuddly", and imply a sort of harmless eccentricity, rather than any dark, scary malevolence. Moreover, these terms seem to be applied to those who have no experience of mental ill health, but are merely regarded as a a little strange or eccentric. In my own opinion, it is only the term "schizo" which I tend to find really offensive, as it does seem to convey a particularly virulent nastiness.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that the journey to liberation perhaps begins internally. It is how we respond to such name-calling that is the really important thing. For, no matter how hard we try, it is not as if we are going to eliminate all stigma and discrimination. And here, I suppose, I am contradicting myself again, having written previously that in order to change things one must engage with the world. I have to say that in my own experience, although my anti-stigma work has helped me confront many issues, it has been as much an internal journey as one to do with actually bringing about change in the world. Indeed, this would seem to tie in with notions about self-stigma. It is how we respond to such things which ultimately defines how "liberated" or "unliberated" we may feel.
Indeed, it seems to me that to feel truly free would be to somehow escape definition or categorisation. We are all, to some degree, put in to boxes and defined. To some this gives a sense of identity, to others a sense that they are somehow locked in to something they need to be liberated from. At one stage I even felt that my own name might be an unnecessary means of defining something which should remain nebulous- free from definition, therefore free to be anything.
So, if some see madness itself as liberating, it is also nice to be liberated from madness and the terms which are used to describe it. And, I feel , that is the point I am at now- feeling somewhat liberated from all of this, no longer defined by terms other than my own.     


bazza said…
Hi David. The power of words is truely amazing, isn't it?
I think the key point in this post is that "the journey to liberation perhaps begins internally".
I remember thinking, many years ago, that black people should make up there minds what they want to be called; 'coloured', 'black' etc. Now I am embarrassed to think that but I realise the importance of respect.
Once a young West Indian man in my employ was racially abused by a customer. I told him to bear in mind that it was the abuser who had the problem, not you. This really helped him to come to terms with the situation.
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Dear bazza,
As you say, the power of words is amazing. Indeed, lots of the struggles for liberation in the west- feminism, race, post-colonialism- could be seen as struggles over language.
But, as I hope I get across in my post, as I don't identify myself with "those words", it is hard for them to affect me. And, perhaps, this is, as you say, an "internal" process.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, bazza. Your thoughts are always welcome.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
Very interesting. I know we've discussed the terminology that can be attached to those experiencing mental health concerns.
I believe, from my viewpoint that the alleged derogatory words, are in actuality, quite harmless, as long as they are not used in a cruel and ignorant way.
In fact, I rather enjoy being referred to as a 'nutter' or 'loony' etc. I would also note that the general public are much less inclined to stigmatise and label those with mental health issues as was the case, not that long ago. Sometimes those within the mental health field gives those so-called inappropriate words, 'oxygen' that is not needed.
Glad that your personal 'liberation' is growing in strength, David.
Very best wishes to one of my favourite 'nut cases'.
In kindness and respect, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
I think you are right that these words are almost harmless unless used in a cruel and ignorant way.
I suppose it all depends on context and intent, you hippy, hirsute lunatic you.
Indeed, I do find being able to use such vocabulary quite "liberating" after feeling for so long that it was inappropriate. Maybe it is OK for those with experience of mental ill health to use these words amongst ourselves, but perhaps, not so OK for the "normals" to use them against us.
Anyway, take care Gary, and a huge fruitcake, your way,
With Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Dear David,

As I read this my first thought was the old adage: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In my own journey I'm learning not to take myself so seriously. I am the only one who can give permission for another to insult me. Perspective is the key and you relayed that in your post.

In this age of prolific new-word and buzz-word development, there will always be the inappropriate word, phrase, or message. I have a choice whether or not to use them. I do find that often it's a matter of becoming 'desensitized'. What the heck, analyzing it would only make me crazier!

I enjoy having a touch of madness. My imagination takes flight and I create some interesting stuff. So being called, 'flighty' has become a compliment. Speaking of flight, I best take off, ending this. David, it was great reading that someone else has reached similar conclusions. Liberated indeed!

Enjoy your week,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
I'm glad that this post provoked such a ream of interesting thoughts from you. I suppose, as you say, it is all about perspective and how we deal with such things.
Anyway, I enjoy your own flightiness/touch of madness, call it what you will. Some would say imagination or creativity. Anyway, it seems you have bundles of it!
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
TSB said…
Despite not being British, I have always enjoyed the word "nutter". Perhaps I shall claim that one for my very own! TSB The Nutter! Which then would be TSBTN.

Good post... makes one smile and makes one think.
David said…
Dear TSB,
Thanks for your comment.
I'm glad that you weren't offended by my post, and that it was, perhaps, some food for thought.
I also enjoy your blog very much, and hope you continue writing.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,

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