Jan 27

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“I feel so [insert disability/mental illness here] today.”

All the time, I hear people say:

“Oh, I have reality show ADD.”

“I’ve been so OCD about this project.”

“I feel so bipolar this week!”

“The Falcons are schizophrenic on the field today.”

“Ugh. I’m so depressed. I need some prozac.”


NO ONE ever says:

“I’m kinda autistic sometimes.”

What’s up with that?

As a parent of a child with special needs (that’s her in the picture!) and as someone who works within the special needs community, I am constantly annoyed when people make light of mental illnesses and disabilities. ADHD, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are all REAL and significantly impact the lives of people who have these diagnoses (and those who go undiagnosed). It isn’t funny to me when people throw around these terms to describe behavior or feelings that fall in the average range of the bell curve. On top of that, it hit me that no one ever throws around the word “autism” that way. Frankly, this irritated me further. Why are certain disabilities taken more seriously than others?

I mentioned this to a friend of mine, whose child is on the spectrum, and she came back with an attitude I didn’t expect. Her thought– wouldn’t it be great if autism weren’t so stigmatized that the word could and would be used by the general population? Isn’t that what people with disabilities or mental illnesses want? To be normalized? I agree that it would be nice if the statement “my _____ has autism” wasn’t followed with the typical reaction of “I’m so sorry”, as if the disorder carries with it a certain bleak future. Perhaps that’s exactly what’s happened with ADHD, bipolar disorder, etc. The public has decided these issues don’t carry with them a death sentence– and so, sure, it’s ok to use those words irreverently.

So, now I am stumped.

In my great desire to destigmatize mental illness and disabilities, should I be grateful for the casual use of these words? Or should I continue as usual, educating others when I hear them refer to needing to be less OCD, ADD, or bipolar? I still feel like these are issues to be taken seriously– but I definitely don’t think they should be seen as tragedies.

What do you think?

Permanent link to this article: http://cloverleafschool.org/i-feel-so-insert-disabilitymental-illness-here-today/


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  1. Julie Smith

    I think a lot of the problem comes from the frank and horrible reality that a lot of people still don’t believe in mental illness. Since everyone sometimes lacks focus, and everyone sometimes has mood and energy swings, the idea can be that the disorders are overdiagnosed, or made up for attention, or even worse, to explain just plain [insert bad personality trait here]: laziness, poor parenting, craving attention, etc.

    I used to let the misinformed masses bother me. To be honest they still can. But now I try to ignore the barbs of misinformed attacks, and contribute my point of view wherever possible to educate, much as you do Katherine :) Things will slowly change for the better–I believe that.

    1. mark

      I have no doubt that my wonderful, difficult children do not come from a vaccuum. Many of the qualities that help me as an adult did not do much for me as a kid in elementary school. A lot depends on how how we define “different”, and the way we think about the the value of “difference.”

  2. Admin

    Also, such a BEAUTIFUL picture!

  3. Joy Taylor

    I am the “spectrum parent.” Gah. I’ve said it. Yet the world spins on.

    I guess my point wasn’t as much “wouldn’t it be great,” as it was, “how interesting that it ISN’T like that?” There is something structurally fascinating about attempting to dissect others’ reaction to our kids’ diagnoses and behaviors, as well as our own.

    Also, it sucks.

    That morning, as you and I talked, I learned more about my own emotional response and baggage. It took months, maybe a year or so, before I could allow my brain to so much as TOUCH the “A” word. Autism. Oh. So much lived in that word, nd so much died.

    But now, I find things resurrected. They have taken on a new life, a different life. I am grateful beyond words to you, Katherine, and others who have helped me find life in a word I feared would define my child.

    His smiles defy it. His laughter and jokes defy it. I will confess, I do sometimes fantasize that it will someday be light enough to joke about. Because it is part of who he is, and who he is, is awesome. And funny.

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