“We’re never gonna survive, unless, we get a little crazy”

 Seal, “Crazy”

I used to love listening to Seal sing “Crazy” on my VW Jetta’s stereo while driving up and down San Francisco’s steep hills, a fitting backdrop for such a song. One must drive differently in San Francisco – it’s such a treacherous maze of streets, especially when driving a stick shift car like mine.  I was twenty-one years old at the time, a thrill seeker, and a  bon vivant in the making.

I had no inkling I would one day be diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder.  “Crazy” was a totally innocuous word in my (relatively sane) mind.  I didn’t think twice of Seal using “crazy” in his hit song back then, nor did I ponder what the word truly represented.  “Crazy” simply didn’t apply to me.  Not yet.

I grew up in a home “touched with fire”, a phrase Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison used for her book’s title to describe the artistic temperament often associated with bipolar disorder.  My Dad had what was then called manic depression.  Although he functioned highly in his work as a violinist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sometimes he’d fall apart.

I visited him at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, which to me seemed like a scary, sterile kennel. I hated seeing my Dad, a brilliant Renaissance man who I didn’t consider to be “crazy” one bit, housed with people who milled around him and who did seem to fit that derogatory label.

I looked down on my Dad for being “sick” and “damaged”, but not “crazy” or “psycho”.  “Sick” was a bad-enough label for a parent, but “crazy” would have been far worse for me to stomach.  The word “crazy” had now become personal – a word that was demeaning, and it also meant something amorphous and terrifying.

In my late twenties, I met my husband, and we started a family.  Life turned upside down for me after my second child was born.  I’ll never forget the day I left my newborn in my husband’s arms.  Then I admitted myself into our mental health unit, with engorged breasts and no baby.  I was told that I had postpartum bipolar disorder.

From that point on, my opinions about using correct terminology regarding mood disorders changed. As a freelance writer and an English literature graduate, words and expressions were very important to me.  It was inevitable that I would figure out how to describe my mood disorder to others, both verbally and through writing, in a way I felt comfortable with.  “Crazy” wasn’t going to cut it.

I started writing letters to the editors of our local newspapers.  I also commented on websites about how to depict and address those with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder respectfully.  It felt good to be proactive.

One of my letters to the Editor was published in the Scotts Valley/San Lorenzo Valley Press Banner, my local paper.  My letter addressed the use of the word “crazy” in response to another resident’s letter to the Editor.  I was very gung-ho when I wrote my two cents; I’ve softened my stance a little bit since then, but I stand by what I wrote:


Letter:  Avoid stigmatizing mental illness

May 10, 2012 By Dyane Leshin-Harwood


I agreed with every word of Claudio Sebastian Nobile’s letter to the editor (“Reading stunt sets bad example,” Letters, May 4) until the last sentence, in which Nobile stated “…be more like an adult, not like a crazy person.” I take issue with the word “crazy,” as it perpetuates the stigma of mental illness. A better way to express himself might have been “not like a person with poor judgment.” As the mother of two young girls myself, I am teaching them that it is not OK to use the word “crazy,” as it is derogatory. I hope Mr. Nobile, as a parent himself, will act as a good role model to his girls when it comes to using appropriate language and helping our world break the stigma of mood disorders.

Dyane Leshin-Harwood,

Ben Lomond

I was happy that the Press Banner chose to publish my letter.  I received two comments on their website in response to my opinions. One comment was positive, and the other one, submitted by “Crazy Guy” was ignorant and rude.  He wrote:

“So now were not supposed to use the word “crazy” too? Add that to the list of forbidden words along with midget, colored, negro, fat,..and all the rest.  I’m telling you, the politically correct need to publish a book on the correct words to use every year and which ones we’re not supposed to use.”

Crazy Guy indicates that he doesn’t have enough brain power to make simple substitutions in his choice of language; moreover, he demonstrates that he may be passive/aggressive by selecting his name to be Crazy Guy in the first place!  I wrote one final response:

“I know we can’t micromanage all our words – that would be ridiculous. But once mental illness affects you or your family, your life is different. Your viewpoints change. If you have kids – that makes a difference too.  I understand where you are coming from, but your anger ruins the effectiveness of your message.”

Crazy Guy never responded to me.

I realize that the word “crazy” is deeply embedded in our vernacular, and each of us has only so much energy to devote to changing our language habits as well as others’ speech.  But if we all chip away a little here, and a little there, a sea change can occur.

I’ve taught my daughters that it’s not acceptable for them to use the word “crazy”.  I know I’m many things in this life, but crazy is not one of them.  It’s just the name of a catchy Seal song (and the classic Patsy Cline song) nothing more, nothing less.


This photo was taken of me when I was pregnant with my first child Avonlea.  I’m standing alongside my father Richard Leshin, who passed away in 2009.  I dedicate this post to him.Image



15 thoughts on “Crazy

  1. Interesting, I have a softer stance on the use of the word, depending on HOW it is used. I embrace it as meaning colorful, interesting. I remember a childhood friend’s mother saying of me that I was a little bit crazy and that it was a good thing. It is. But to debase someone by using the word, to use it ignorantly and abusively, is wrong, without doubt.

    • Hello there Kitt – I used to use “crazy” every other word, come to think of it. In good ways, such as you describe – interesting, colorful and even fun! Crazy doesn’t equal boring, right? (Well, most of the time) Anyway, I am pretty neurotic when it comes to certain words and phrases, as anyone reading my blog will come to know. But it’s all for the greater good – I’m no trying to bum anyone out. I just like to say “I have bipolar” and not “I’m bipolar” and refrain from saying “crazy”. I should probably pay more attention to my awful potty mouth for a change! 😉 (I kid you not!) Stay tuned… p.s. thank you for your comment. I am so lucky to have readers like you take a moment to write about these posts. It’s a gift.

    • Thanks to you, Lady M.! Yes, I love that photo too – I miss him. Writing about him keeps him alive in a way for me, especially as his birthday approaches on May 22. A Gemini! hugs to you & B.! xoxxo

  2. I take crazy as a compliment from my students….not from all people, but when I know it’s used in a complimentary way, I have no problem with it. Recent events and dealings with some people, hmmm, then I have issues. I like what Kitt has to say. You can make any word into a derogatory.

    • So stoked to have you comment here, Dee. I wish you were MY teacher! I would take “crazy’ as a compliment from students for the most part. I don’t think I ever told you this, but I was a sub. for SLV Middle School, and Santa Cruz High. When I was just 21!!!!!!!! That WAS truly crazy! And surprise, surprise, I didn’t fulfill my teaching credential requirements after that experience – I just had the emergency one. :0

      On a separate note, yes, it’s so true as Kitt says that any word can become a kind one or a rude one – well, most any word, I think. As I wrote to fellow blogger Doreen, I’m less pedantic now about this word and the “b” word. Really!!!! 😉

      big hugs to you & G. and let’s hang out this summer!!!!!!! We can read things from Stigmama to one another on the grass somewhere in the shade! 😉

  3. You’re right. There are certain times when using the word “crazy” doesn’t fit and it can hurt. I’m glad you’re actively working to educate people about the deeper meaning behind the word. I like the pic of your dad. My dad passed away in 2006, right after my 2 week hospital stay. Now that’s “crazy”, huh?

    • Hi Doreen! Love having you here! I’m so sorry you lost your Dad as well. Just after your hospital stay? Oh my God. I am reading your archives (slowly) on your blog so I wonder if you wrote about it? I’d like to read anything about that.

      Anyway, I am feeling very satisfied as far as expounding on the words “crazy” and “bipolar” and I’m going to move on! 😉 Despite what I’ve written about those two words, I’m becoming less pedantic about how they are used, believe it or not! (By the way pedantic is the PERFECT word to describe my point of view. It means “overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching.”) I get a kick out of finding the right word and I know you writers do too.

      So once again, thanks for reading, thanks for taking time to comment, and I look forward to reading your blog in the days to come – it’s a (calorie-free) treat!

      • Yes, I talk a little bit about my dad in the post called Miracles amidst death, hope, and craziness – or if you go to the link at the top of my page that says “My Story”, It’s on there too. Thanks for being so welcoming.

  4. I’m pumping my fist up in agreement with ya sistah! Once I was diagnosed I stopped using that word and I am shocked how much even my family uses it. I’m teaching my small family the same never to use that hateful word.

    • Hey yummy homemade Frappuccinno friend, thank you for your support!
      Can you please Fed Ex me a frozen vanilla Frapp, STAT? 😉

      It makes me feel great that you understand where I’m coming from and agree with me regarding the “C” word! I am also so impressed that you are teaching your family to refrain from using the “c” word too! I’m a little flexible about it, more than I’ve let on in my writing, and I even find myself saying it without thinking. But in any case, when it comes to educating others including our extended family members, baby steps go a long way!

      Proud of you and I’m loving your blog!
      Sistah Dy

  5. It’s a word people can use to dismiss you and anything you might have to say. In response to my trying to explain my difficulties I remember my dad saying “You were crazy then and you’re crazy now.” And poof! He didn’t have to take any of it to heart.

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