Recently I had a book signing for my recent book. Following the reading portion of our event, I opened up the floor to a question and answer session. It was fabulous, lots of fantastic questions and ideas tossed around the room in a conversation-like format. Something stood out to me during that group conversation that I want to share and elaborate on, something that took me a long time to get, but once I got it, it changed my life.
“What do you do when someone calls you crazy?” A quiet voice asked from the middle of the room.
“I agree with them.” I answered. Gasps, wide eyes and shaking heads filled the room. You would have thought I had admitted to having committed a heinous crime. Smiling, I knew what was being thought – once upon a time I thought that word was the worst thing ever.
That was before last year.
My method for setting goals or overcoming challenges can be a bit obscure. One thing I do not do is set New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I create a theme, a phrase usually, for the year. I then focus on it heavily throughout the course of that year. For example, the year I got diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, my theme was “Do not die.” And last year, my theme was “Own your sh*t.”
That theme was used everywhere I went. It was a convenient phrase to toss out there when I was annoyed or upset with someone. It took until someone called me crazy and it hurt me deeply that I realized, I too, needed to own my sh*t. I needed to own the words that were hurting me if I wanted to move past them.
So I started to really analyze the words, who said them, when they said it and why they said it. And then I owned up to them if they were true. Frankly, it was really hard to own that and to swallow my pride enough to agree with those trying to hurt me.
But it did something pretty magical.
The first thing it did was allow me to change how I perceived those words. It took the power away from the person saying them and put them right back into my hands. You want to call me crazy? Sure, I do act crazy from time to time. The name-caller was suddenly left powerless with hollow words as they realized they had nothing else they could say that could hurt me at that point. I was owning my actions and became in control of that conversation. This would anger the name-caller, and they’d be the one that appeared out of line.
The next thing it did, was set me up for name-calling from those close to me. Families struggle with mental illness and when my family tried to call me crazy in an attempt to hurt me, it really stopped them in their tracks to have me not react at all but to agree with them. The fastest way to end an argument is to eliminate an argument at all, and that’s exactly what it did.
But the biggest thing it did, was change the definition of the word for me.
When I was a teenager we had a family we were really close to. They had a son near my age who was simply ridiculous in his words and actions. His parents used to call him demeaning names and before too long, he believed them. My parents and I weren’t sure what to think about this, but one afternoon they told my brother and I that the more you call someone something, the more they believe it. That’s why positive affirmations work in the opposite direction – the more good you say the more you’ll believe it.
With this in mind, I took to redefining those words for myself. Was crazy the worst thing I could be called? No! Crazy is the name of so many brilliant songs. Crazy is the name of some fantastic Youtube videos. Crazy is what my favorite Drag Queens describe themselves as. Crazy is what people without creativity call mentally unwell people. I can act crazy at times, and it’s part of me: I am beautiful.
So when people started judging me, or rolling their eyes, or dismissing my ideas, I’d toss ‘crazy’ out there as a joke or as a dismissed idea on my part. I took control of that word and that definition. I owned it. The word ‘crazy’ is something I have to deal with, and I owned it.
Words only have power if you give them power. They only hurt if you decide to let them. And I know that it is so much easier said than done.
Take the time now to decide what words you want and need to own. What words will it be? Will you take on ‘Crazy’ like I did? Or take on bigger and badder demons like ‘Psycho’ or ‘Insane’? Changing the definitions of these words will take on and change how we see mental illness going forward, and I’d love to see people lose power in the words that potentially hurt people with mental health conditions.