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In Defense of 'Crazy'

Crazy is not a bad word. Crazy people are not bad. So I'm reclaiming crazy in public discourse as a way to de-stigmatize mental illness. I stand on the shoulders of many others who repurpose words to empower people whose power has been taken away.
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Crazy is everywhere: on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, in the news, in books, in films, in music, in our words, in each other's eyes and even in our blood. So much so that the meme cray cray has emerged as a catchall phrase.

Mental illness or mental disorder or brain disease or brain disorder or mental disability or whatever you want to call it, shows up a lot in my family and in multiple, continuous generations. And the fact that we don't know what to call it -- on the eve of another National Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 5 through 11) -- tells us we are at a critical juncture in the mental health movement. As more and more ordinary people break the silence about mental illness, as more research uncovers the mysteries of the human brain, as we discover new ways to prevent and treat brain disorders, we strengthen our understanding of this complex phenomenon and thus our language in public discourse continues to evolve.

We throw around the word crazy a lot these days in popular culture and everyday casual conversations. I think it's a way of expressing how overwhelmed we are by things that we don't seem to know how to control or comprehend.

Crazy isn't always and entirely a bad thing. Crazy can sometimes be the best thing. Like, have you ever had a dessert or sex that was crazy good? Or like the crazy expressions of art seen in masterpieces by Jackson Pollock and Frieda Kahlo or the creativity of the late Robin Williams that makes life sparkle.

When I worked with my publisher to create the title for my new book, Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and Church, I knew that the word crazy would be part of the title. It had to be. This is, after all, the story of my life and how nearly every contour of it touches the margins of mental illness, like a stubborn wildflower growing on the edge of a cracked sidewalk.

The title isn't meant to be offensive, but some may believe the word crazy in reference to mental illness exacerbates the already significant stigma associated with mental illness. I get it. I also get that we desperately need to challenge and change the stigma associated with mental illness. You see, according to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), one out of every four people will personally experience some form of mental illness in his/her lifetime. A new survey shows that Christian pastors are not immune either (although few actually talk about it). Crazy, in many respects, is pretty common... as common, in fact, as our use of the word itself.

When I talk about my dad who lived with untreated bipolar disorder most of his adult life and how dramatically that impacted me as his youngest child, I talk about how crazy that kind of life was for me.

When I talk about my oldest brother's diagnosis with the same brain disease as our dad, and how that changed our lives, I talk about how crazy my brother's chronic suicidal ideation and attempts to kill himself made us (and him) as we tried desperately to keep him alive.

When I talk about my cousin who had multiple forms of mental disorders and who murdered a woman and who was later executed for his crime, I talk about how crazy we all are in the United States for killing a person with a mental disability to show that killing is wrong.

When I talk about my own spirituality journey and how God has appeared to me in dreams, in ancient Cathedral crypts, in the throes of labor, and in jungle treetops, I talk about how crazy I feel for being so desperately connected to God.

Crazy is not a bad word. Crazy people are not bad.

So I'm reclaiming crazy in public discourse as a way to de-stigmatize mental illness. I stand on the shoulders of many others who repurpose words to empower people whose power has been taken away. We observe this strategy in the human rights movements of the LGBTQ community when the word queer was reclaimed.

If you take 24 hours to simply listen to all the conversations around you, chances are good the word crazy will pop up. Maybe we just haven't realized how crazy our lives have become. What if we finally acknowledged that crazy is not a hyperbole, but a real thing that is part of our lives?

In the book's title I pair the word crazy with the word blessed. This comes to me from Jesus' own words recorded in the Gospels when Jesus the Liberator preached his most profound sermon on the Mount and chose to shower blessings upon the poor in spirit, the persecuted and the meek. While society considered such people to be marginalized and worthless, Jesus considered them central to God's family and priceless.

I say blessed are the crazy as a way to resurrect Jesus's words of blessing to all who know what it is like to live with mental illness.

Blessed are those who are stigmatized for mental illness. Blessed are the ones who choose to live another day with a brain disease. Blessed are you who see visions. Blessed are you who are imprisoned without mental health care. And blessed are all the people who love them.

Without apology and from deep within my heart I proclaim that blessed are the crazy and we shall be called children of God.

Sarah Griffith Lund recorded this special video for the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding, Tuesday, Oct. 7: