I was reading a shared post on Facebook awhile ago from a woman describing some of her obsessive compulsive behavior. I had no trouble with the fact that she was openly doing this or describing herself as having OCD because it seemed likely she did have a problem from what she wrote (and I’m all for being open). The thing that made me sad about it was that she used the word, “psycho,” to describe herself.

How often do we impose these stigmas on ourselves? “Psycho” “crazy” “weird” “bonkers” etc. It’s bad enough that the world at large stigmatizes those of us with mental health issues, but how can we expect them to stop when we do it to ourselves? 

Making the first move

Maybe we like hiding behind these phrases or adjectives (another question is if they should even be used as adjectives at all?) because we feel like it normalizes us. It’s like we are telling the people of the world, “look, I know that I’m a little different. I’m not ignorant of that fact.” We are subconsciously trying not to be the strange kid in the lunch room at middle school. We think that by being our own enemy we are beating the rest of the world to the punch. Maybe doing this will make it so that we can laugh at ourselves rather than becoming the object of scorn. By stigmatizing ourselves, we become both the bully and the bullied—and feel that we can identify with whoever has the upper hand.

But is it healthy? Is it productive? Or does it just demean our condition and who we are as people? I think we can all agree that having a mental health condition doesn’t make life easier. Generally, it makes it a whole lot tougher. But let’s not set ourselves up for failure by being the kid who apologizes before he’s even taken the stage: “I’m sorry I didn’t practice, and I don’t really know my lines that well… but I’m just an understudy for the main character so I guess that’s all that can be expected.”

Taking a stand

No. Don’t be that person. Your mental health issue, whether OCD or depression or bipolar or whatever, doesn’t have to define you in negative terms. Don’t define yourself that way. Don’t make excuses for your behavior or your life, especially to people who don’t understand your condition in the first place. Your portrayal of yourself can make a huge difference in how others perceive both you and your mental illness, whether positive or negative. If you lead out with saying “I’m so crazy because my OCD….” then you have just reinforced a stigma for yourself and others with OCD. Let’s not keep perpetuating these misunderstandings that OCD is about being clean or freaked out over dirtiness, or that having bipolar disorder makes you so depressed or weird, or that you are acting psycho because of some other mental health problem. Don’t complicate already complicated situations. Be who you are and leave the stigmas out of it.

Learning a new vocabulary

Sure, sometimes it is difficult to describe how we feel. I often use the phrase “I freaked out about…” when I describe my obsessions and compulsions. So maybe it is our vocabulary that needs to expand. Maybe we need to think more carefully about how we describe ourselves and our behavior so as not to stigmatize our disorder any more.  And, okay, you might legitimately feel “crazy” or “psycho” when you are going through a bad bout of your OCD—but perhaps it’s time to realize that by using those words, we could be causing undue harm to others in the mental health community. You might think this is all too politically correct and that you should be able to say what you want. Of course, you have the freedom to say and describe yourself with whatever words you want… but I hope we can avoid self-stigmatizing so that we can set a good example for others and show respect to our own minds. Because I think we can all agree that you really don’t need to bully yourself. Promise.

Have you ever stigmatized yourself using these kinds of words or phrases? How can we avoid doing this?

3 thoughts on “Self-imposed stigmas”

  1. The world is psycho. I guess try not to worry too much about labels yeah? And maybe we all over think things from time to time.

  2. You make a great point here. I am a person who struggles with bipolar and I find it almost comforting to refer to myself as “a little crazy”. Even as I use the word crazy, it’s not really a good one for me to use because it reinforces others’ use of the word. I casually referred to my waitress as “a little crazy” today, and she did the polite thing and avoided eye contact on that. I immediately felt guilty for placing an adjective on her that I had no right to place. I literally behaved in a way I would never want anyone to behave around me. I hate when others call me crazy, so why do I call myself that?

  3. A point that I don’t see being made very often (and thank you for addressing this issue), is that referring to a simple emotion you’re feeling or an action that embarrasses you with a label that’s an actual medical diagnosis, trivializes the diagnosis and the difficulty, pain or stigma that people who live with it have to deal with minute by minute.

    Me: “My new meds aren’t working and I’m so depressed and exhausted today I can’t even get out of bed. I just can’t meet you for lunch.”

    They: “Oh, I’m sorry. I know just what you mean. I am so worried about my job that I didn’t get to bed until after 1:00. I’m really down and dragging too. Why don’t you get an espresso when you get here and we’ll have a great time!”

    Me: …

    The world, as you suggest, really needs to improve their (English) vocabulary. A label/diagnosis/condition is NOT an adjective or a pronoun. Perhaps there’s a list of suggestions somewhere?

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