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Please Stop Using My Mental Illness Diagnosis as an Adjective

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My linguistic adventures have been few and far between, yet, Urban Dictionary will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s where I get to look up the colorful words my students say, like “smash,” which is just a rather violent way to describe the act of fornication. Completely avoid the “sex” section in Urban Dictionary. You’re welcome for the suggestion. After a dalliance of curiosity, I visited once. I now know enough euphemisms for genitals and loosely categorized sex acts to make Satan himself blush.

Some phrases are rather likable. For example “true chainz” refers to “truth stemming from the deepest and most valuable aspects of one’s self (their chainz).” Is the spelling a little cringe-inducing? Sure. Frankly, that “z” makes me want to fight someone. However, the sentiment behind it is actually pretty profound.

Despite being an English teacher, I do not claim to be a grammar aficionado, however, I feel pretty confident about nouns. A noun can be a person, place, thing or idea. But things get a little dicey for me moving forward; hell, if I’m lacking enough sleep and the right amount of meds, I would totally tell you that Sophie, my cat, is a person. Just kidding, I know she’s a “thing” and she knows she’s a “thing” that deserves all of my attention, which is why she is hashtagged as #a1sinceday1 on my Instagram. I apologize, I digress. (An “apology” is a noun, by the way.)

Adjectives, on the other hand, describe and modify nouns. They are the fun and colorful words of a sentence. I do not like adjectives because I am not fun and the only thing colorful about me is the impressive way I sometimes mutilate my vocabulary in order to express myself because, in my opinion, there’s nothing that makes someone get the “point” like a well placed “douche canoe.”

Yet, the one thing that really makes me peeved is when people use diagnoses in adjective form. We’ve probably heard them:

“I’m just, like, so OCD.” Really? You’re just like, so, “obsessive-compulsive disorder?”  That doesn’t even make any sense.

“She is just so bipolar.” So what you’re really saying is that she keeps changing her mind so much it looks like she’s swinging through mania and depression?

“What a psycho!” Hey, so, how about we don’t actually equate a word that connotes the famous shower stabbing with someone who is in a seriously compromised state and needs medical attention. And yes, I realize that Norman Bates needed medical attention, too, but he’s also a fictional character and we are not.

“Sorry, what? I’m just ADHD right now.” Like my first example, this doesn’t make any damn sense. “I’m just so attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Go away with that mess.

These are just a few of the disorders and/or conditions that get tossed around in a casual conversation like they’re nothing.

But they’re not nothing.

Listen, I know that most of these are said with humor in mind. It’s not that I can’t take a joke— no, what I can’t take is hearing something that trivializes my experience. And true, the person who’s saying it may not have malicious intent, but in my opinion, the word “intent,” while a noun, is edging into the realm of bullshit anyway. Saying “I didn’t intend to do that” or “that was not my intention” just makes me want to retort “so why did you?”

Why did you invalidate someone’s struggle by making light of it?

Why did you become dismissive of someone who has a medically diagnosed problem?

Why did you choose to contribute to the stigma people struggling with mentally illness face within society as well as ourselves?

Because, let me tell you, as someone with three substantial diagnoses, I already know the connotative meaning behind the pejorative you’ve created out of my mental illnesses. And I don’t like it. Just like I don’t like having my brain be the common battleground for the civil war between my reason and my reaction.

I know this is the part where I’m supposed to end with a prolific if not poignant statement that will inspire people en masse to drop these words from their lexicon. But let’s be honest, here—this is not a new discussion, so instead, I’m going to leave you with one last word. It’s a noun.


As in, we, people struggling with mental illness, have been here taking each other seriously all along, so perhaps you should join us.

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 Unsplash image via Timothy Paul Smith
Originally published: May 2, 2018
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