Do You Really Want to Use Mental Illness as an Insult?

I am tired to death of hearing mental illness diagnoses used as pejoratives.

I am tired to death of hearing technical medical terms that apply to me and my friends hurled as insults at political figures, used to describe weather conditions, and employed as self-deprecating comments in the context of life's little challenges.

I am especially tired to death of hearing this language in the postings of Facebook friends and in the pulpit from educated people who should know better.

Especially after I have called them on it over and over and over.

So you can imagine that my eyes perked up at a thread that addresses this issue, posted on Twitter by somebody who goes by the handle @queerfox.

@QueerFox has gone to great trouble to find adjectives for those who are challenged in the vocabulary department. They have given me permission to post their work, and I share it with you to encourage you to

Watch your mouth.

Did you mean: self-centered, egocentric, self-involved, vain, self-serving, intractable, stubborn, self-aggrandizing, pretentious, self-involved, grandiose, overblown, conceited, smug, narrow-minded, inflexible, adamant, intransigent?

Then say that, instead of narcissistic.

Did you mean: cold, uncaring, heartless, cruel, indifferent, sadistic, ruthless, merciless, evil, remorseless?

Then say that, instead of sociopath/psychopath.

Did you mean: erratic, unpredictable, temperamental, volatile, fickle, mercurial, impulsive, reckless, thoughtless?

Then say that, instead of borderline, manic, or bipolar.

Did you mean irrational, illogical, fallacious, incoherent, conceited, intransigent, obdurate, unreasonable, implacable, cussed, ridiculous, implausible, absurd, unjustified, preposterous?

Then say that, instead of delusional, schizo, insane, crazy, demented, etc.

(Not an illness, but on a related note) Did you mean: uncompromising, obdurate, obstinate, ignorant, intransigent, adamant, heedless, inconsiderate, stubborn, indifferent, narrow-minded, indifferent?

Then say that instead of deaf to criticism, falling on deaf ears, etc.

(Also not necessarily an illness) Did you mean ignorant, imperceptive, blinkered, narrow-minded, inconsiderate, oblivious, rigid, obstinate, willful, intransigent, unobservant, obdurate, unyielding, pertinacious, prejudicial, unamenable?

Then say that, instead of blind.

Did you mean anal-retentive, finicky, fussy, pedantic, nit-picky, pernickity, meticulous, fastidious, hair-splitting, puritanical, snobbish, exacting, controlling, obsessive, high-strung, uptight, queasy, prissy?

Then say that instead of OCD or neurotic.

Did you mean: melodramatic, oversensitive, delicate, uptight, clingy, theatrical, artificial, insincere, boastful, ostentatious, pretentious, attention-seeking, insecure, dependent, needy?

Then say that, instead of histrionic or borderline.

The thread continued. You get the idea.

No, this is not about being PC, where PC is your shorthand for fussy, legalistic, and not fun. This is not about the first amendment, the current justification for all kinds of bad behavior. It is about manners.

Remember manners?

So if I take offense, it is because your behavior is offensive.

In the days of manners, Monica Stoupa once slammed me against the gymnasium wall at St. John the Evangelist Parochial Grade School and said, I can tell Polish jokes, but you can't. Just like how we can tell nun jokes, but the Protestants can't.

I learned my lesson in fifth grade, and it has never steered me wrong.

Which is to say, don't bother calling me on my self-description as batshit crazy. I and my tribe can use that language. Unless you are claiming membership in that tribe, you cannot.

Here ends my lesson in basic decency.

You're welcome.

meme from

Can People With Mental Illness Become Saints?

 The day approaches - the start of Lent Madness.

What, any reasonable person might ask, is that?

Take March Madness. Mash this bracket-style competition with a list of saints, some well-known, some utterly obscure, chosen by Scott Gunn and Tim Schenk, the two members of the Supreme Executive Committee who answer to nobody. Despite years of campaigning, they still will not include Fred Rogers. But I digress...

Every weekday through Lent the reader is presented with two saints and asked to vote. Anybody with an internet connection can vote - only once - they will know. The saint with the greater number of votes advances to the next round.

Information is provided by celebrity bloggers give you a basis for your vote, introductory bios in the first round of thirty-two, odd or intriguing stories in the saintly sixteen, kitsch souvenirs in the elate eight, campaign speeches in the faithful four, and summations in the final for the Golden Halo. You can use any criteria you like to make your choice. You can enter your reasons and campaign for your favorites in the comment section if you choose.

The competition begins this year on Thursday, February 18 and runs through March 31, when the winner of the Golden Halo is crowned.

It's all good fun, or is supposed to be. If you are the sort who explodes in non-Lent-like rage when Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under FDR, bests Luke the Evangelist in the final (2013), then this is not the Lenten discipline for you. Otherwise, it is an opportunity to learn some church history and to ponder the notion of holiness.

Speaking of which, can people with mental illness become saints? Well, obviously, Church calendars of saints are filled with visionaries (Bernadette), people with stigmata (Francis of Assisi), and extremists of many sorts (Joan of Arc). Some of them would be diagnosable in a modern age.

Except for the really big names whose oddness gets obscured by good PR - here's looking at you, Francis and Joan - the diagnosable saints tend not to fare well in Lent Madness. The comments in these competitions are telling. It's a self-selected electorate. They often express a disdain for legend, which disqualifies most of the pre-Enlightenment competitors. They tend to prefer the do-gooders. As a consequence, people who are diagnosable rarely make it past the first round.

I have written about two of these, Margaret of Cortona and my favorite, Christina the Astonishing, patron saint of therapists. Did Margaret have an eating disorder? Was she a cutter? I don't know, but people who rejected her didn't like her extreme fasting and self-disfigurement. Did Christina suffer from delusions? Her family went to the extreme of breaking her leg to keep her at home.

Does mental illness disqualify one from sainthood?

Let's talk about Florence Nightingale and the 1991 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. It was a hot one, not just for being held in Phoenix in July. People were testy as the Church began to talk about sex. So that was the atmosphere in which we considered adding six people to the calendar.

The commission that nominates additions to Lesser Feasts and Fasts had been charged to come up with some names other than the same old, same old, nineteenth century clergy. Specifically, they had been asked to include women and lay people. They presented a slate of six, four women, including Bridget of Ireland and Florence Nightingale, and two men, the founders of Gaulledet University. The House of Bishops stripped the four women off the list and recommended to the House of Deputies the two nineteenth century clergy.

Their reasoning? I can't remember the other two women. Bridget, they didn't like because she was legendary. Was she really a Christian or a Christianized version of the ancient religion? Of Florence, one bishop is reported to have said, Didn't she go a little loony in her old age?

The House of Deputies was not happy. Imagine Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi voting the same way on anything. The equivalent happened in the unanimous vote to restore Bridget to the list and return the measure to the other House, where it finally did pass.

What was with Florence? There were mutterings and suspicions about the real reasons for her rejection. But after further investigation of her old age illness, (and assurances were made that she was not a little loony?), she made a comeback in another year and made it onto the Episcopal Church's list of Holy Women, Holy Men.

And then in clear vindication of her character, Florence Nightingale went on to win the arguably more prestigious Golden Halo in Lent Madness 2017.

This year's bracket is fairly obscure. Until we get into the bios, I don't know if it offers any fellow loonies as candidates. I wait for the Church and for church members to recognize mental illness as a life condition in which some of us strive to follow Jesus as best we can, sometimes heroically, sometimes in ways worth emulating, sometimes as examples of faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ. Calling some of us saints does not mean, God forbid, that anyone wants to be like us, even in holiness of life.

I wait. But I don't hold my breath.

Lent Madness widget from
Perkins icon from
needlework of Christina the Astonishing created by Cookie Scottorn, used with permission
more of Scottern's art can be viewed at

Help! How Do I Talk to My Delusional Cousin?

Consensual reality has taken a real beating lately. Fake news, alt facts, conspiracy theories, Russian Facebook bots... Sure, we'd all like some civil discourse. But what do we do when we can't even agree on what is true?

Delusional is a big word to throw around, especially when you are trying to stay in some sort of relationship with friends or family whom you believe, frankly, to have gone over the deep end. Does it really apply to this situation? Or is the use of the word a lit match in a room full of gasoline?

Let's start with some clarification. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) defines delusions as
 fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. Well, that sure sounds like what we are dealing with.
Delusions are taken as indicators of a mental or physical disorder. But before we go making armchair diagnoses, consider how powerfully our minds cling to ideas that are demonstratively false, the fear of spiders, the hope in lottery tickets, trickle down economics. Let's exercise some restraint and some humility here.

What follows are techniques used in the field of mental illness that may prove useful to communication across the reality divide between people who care about each other. They do not presume that the other person suffers from a mental illness. They do not presume that you have your head screwed on straight either. Actually, how great it would be if both parties agree to use best practices for talking with somebody who is delusional!

The first recommendation follows directly from the definition. Delusions are fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. As a consequence, it is utterly pointless to present evidence that will "prove" the delusion is false.

You have already experienced this. Whatever evidence you present is either discounted because the source is unreliable. Or it is absorbed into the delusion with an alternative explanation.

Save your breath.

The rest comes from Xavier Amador. Amador is not my go to person for understanding people with schizophrenia. But he does give good advice for dealing with delusions. He outlines a four-part strategy: 

  • Listen, reflectively with respect and without judgment. Hear the other person out. Ask questions to make sure you understand the position, not questions to challenge the position. For example: Do you think the Secretary of the State of Georgia falsified the vote totals? or Do you think the Secretary of the State of Georgia certified accurate results? There may be some nuances here that you are missing. Don't go beyond the broad strokes. Just make sure you know what the issue is.
  • Empathize strategically with emotions stemming from the delusions. For example: That would feel really disturbing or My position must feel really frustrating to you.
  • Agree where you can. For example: Every legal vote should be counted and People who commit crimes should be prosecuted.
  • Keep the relationship going with things that you do share. For example, my family members don't respond to each other's political posts on Facebook. But we like each other's photos, jokes, positive news.

I am not suggesting that this strategy will heal the national divide. That is way above my pay grade. As long as there are no threats of violence, this is simply a holding pattern to allow friends and family to hang in with each other until things sort themselves out and consensual reality makes a comeback.

May it be soon.

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