Saturday, May 7, 2011

Coopting Mental Illness

Betcha there's 12 of those things looking at me right now. Looking- and judging.

You hear people coopt mental illness, or at least the terminology, all the time. (At least in English. I have no idea if this happens in other languages.) It's a little odd considering how we treat the actually mentally ill, but every person having a bad day is depressed, everyone acting differently than we would is insane and any person who changes their mind is schizophrenic. And everyone, absolutely everyone, has a phobia these days.

As a person who has an actual phobia*, I find this a teensy bit frustrating. For example, the Pioneer Woman, whom I find inordinately annoying, is always going on about her agoraphobia. Yes, because people with actual agoraphobia frequently get on planes on attend book signings. That is what agoraphobia is all about.

Um, no.

Here is an actual phobia. I'm at work. I look over and see a small yellowish spider crawling across my desk. I shriek and leap backwards which causes my chair to flip over, depositing me head first and ass up onto the floor- in a skirt, in front of the entire office, all of whom have totally seen this before and all say, "Oh, spider?" I then rush into my boss' office, interrupting a conference call with a Judge to demand that someone kill the spider on my desk before it crawls somewhere IWON'TKNOWHEREITIS!

That's a phobia. Phobias are completely irrational and cause irrational, bizarre behavior.

I have a friend who is as afraid of spiders as I am, if not more. Mind you, if I go into the garage, after I get out I require the Spider Protocol(tm), wherein someone has to search my hair and back for hidden spiders. I know they're just waiting for a chance to crawl all over me. Just waiting. They've got time.

Anyway, my friend is driving when a spider drops down on a web from the driver's side visor. He, without thinking, leaps into the passenger seat and opens the door. Mind you, he was going 45mph around a turn at the time. Fortunately, the car hit a tree before he could exit at 45mph. As he's sitting there dazed (he was fine), a cop, who viewed the accident, runs up the car and says, "Where'd the driver go?" My friend says that he was the driver. Before the cop can question how he ended up in the passenger's seat, my friend remembers the spider, screams and leaps out of the car.

Yeah, not a good move in front of a cop.

That's a phobia. No one could view what happened there as rational or reasonable, unless you have arachnophobia, in which case that is totally reasonable behavior. Yeah, it's the spider's car now. Just let it go, man. There will be other cars. I've ceded entire rooms to spiders before. I'm not arguing with those things.

So, yeah, mental illness. Stop coopting it.

*Nobody ever lays claim to anxiety disorders. I have no idea why not.


  1. As a lifelong acrophobe, I feel your pain.

  2. That's a camel spider in the picture. Genetically close to both ants and spiders. (I was going to go on, but reading the rest of your entry, I don't think you'd appreciate it...)

    Ever hear of "Robin of Berkeley"? She makes her living (well, assuming that she's found a way to make blogging profitable...) at co-opting mental illness for her own purposes. Try here or here (although World'o'Crap moved any new stuff over to blogger end of last year - some issue with t'other site)

  3. Let me just say that if I saw one of those hangin out in my back yard, there would be a need for 911 and a change of clothes!

    I don't do spiders. Little ones or big ones. And I can soooo relate to the, "somebody kill that thing before it crawls somewhere IWON'TKNOWHEREITIS!" I'm not too keen on looking at it on my computer screen.

  4. Okay, I do not have a phobia, much less of spiders or insects or assorted crawlies. BUT MUST YOU KEEP POSTING THAT PICTURE?! WHY DO YOU DO THAT?! WHY?!

    Wow, I wasn't familiar with Robin of Berkeley. A licensed psychotherapist, eh? Licensed by whom? I'm just curious. Juuust curious.

    My favorite of the coopting, of course, is when people enjoy throwing around the word "anorexic" like so much congratulatory confetti.

  5. As the wife of a bipolar person, I really enjoy when people describe themselves as acting "manic" or "bipolar" when they actually mean "energetic for no apparent reason" or "in a good mood then in a bad mood within the space of a couple of hours because normal ups and downs occurred in my day." Because episodes of mania and hypomania and the swings of bipolar disorder, not to mention its quotidian symptoms and affects, are exactly like having more than one mood throughout the day, or getting an unexpected burst of enthusiasm. Exactly like. And those things affect your life as a spouse/loved one of the energetic or normal-mood-swinging person exactly as much as they affect my life as the spouse of a person with bipolar I disorder. Exactly as much.

  6. that's me, except bugs. spiders bother me less [they eat bugs!] but still bother me some - but NOT to the irrational level that bugs bother me.

    i run away from moths. *shudder*. they want to TOUCH me and get me dirty and icky and...

    i dunno, really, what all scares me about bugs. i know my stepfather would sometimes put bugs in my bed to scare me, but it was already a phobia before then...
    don't know why.

  7. Ariadne;

    i hate when people do that. i am not bipolar, but i've dated a few - it's NOT the same.
    [do bipolar people still call themselves "Pendulam People"? i always thought that was the coolest thing, to give people a name that was that cool, and idendity they could share with others like themselves...]

    but the people who co-opt *don't get it*. and never will. it's not REAL to them


  8. I got really lucky in that I managed to avoid the phobia line entirely when they were handing them out. I think heights are spectacular, darkness is comforting, airplane turbulence is exciting and spiders? Adorable.

    Especially if they're big and furry, they're like cuddly eight-legged teddy bears with pincers and altogether too many eyes.

    Mind you, that fondness has limits. I've told this story before but: one time getting home from work, I got into my car, turned the key, put on my seatbelt, took off the park break, put it into reverse and turned to look out the back window... only to find a huntsman spider as big as my hand perched on the top of the head-rest, centimeters from my face.

    Five minutes later, having freaked out, dived out of the car, been forcably pulled back into the car by my seat belt, unclicked the seatbelt, dived out the car again, and spent the remaining four and a half minutes ineffectually trying to dislodge the spider, I resigned myself to the apparently unavoidable fact that I was going to have to drive home leaning forward over the steering wheel to minimise the chance it would decide my head was a better perch than the headrest.

    It was only after all this that I remembered: it was a hunstman. They're not dangerous! I could have picked him (actually, by the size, probably "her") up at no greater risk than a moderately painful nip.

    On Topic:

    I disagree with PF's original point slightly: to some extent, those are phobia's/conditions, but just extremely mild variants of them. Our problem is that we want to categorise everything, so if we call "being scared of spiders" arachnaphobia, then almost everyone has some level of it: the same as how everyone, no matter how extroverted, has some level of introversion. We exist on a spectrum: there's no line beyond which people are definately 'phobic, but below which they're not. Take me: I'm not arachnaphobic and have handled tame spiders before, but as my above story illustrates I am perfectly capable of exhibiting irrational responses to them if they startle me (god damn that seatbelt: I thought the spider had grabbed me and was pulling my back into the car).

    I do agree there needs to be some consideration for extreme phobia's, but in this, like everything else, we run into the quintessential human problem: we define things as 'classes' and 'categories', drawing lines between them and making one side X and the other Y, when we should be thinking in terms of spectrums and gradients, where X becomes Y but in-between is elements of both. But saying that someone doesn't have X because their X is 'mild' or 'normal' doesn't accurately represent reality.

    Example: I am diagnosed as having aspergers syndrome, but I'm an extremely borderline case and only really got the diagnosis because it meant more help at school (true story: the doctor let my parents choose whether or not to give me that diagnosis, after explaining what it meant). I have some traits that resemble someone with aspergers, but they're not strong or particularly noticable. My point is, it's not that I either don't have aspergers or I do have it, it's that I've got a mild case of it: but there's no diagnosis for "kinda, but not really" so we had to pick Yes or No.

    The human mind doesn't cope well with processes and spectrums: it's so much simpler to see things in black and white.

  9. @ PF

    OHAI writing you from bed post hysterectomy, and spider post because of course, I'm going to show up for that.

    Yes, the co-opting of language is obnoxious. So obnoxious.

    Also, spiders will never try to eat you, but the things they eat will. Not that that helps with the irrational fear, but maybe don't (please) kill them or have them killed?


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