I’ve been meaning to blog about this subject for some time. It’s an issue that weighs heavily on my mind, and is the primary reason I choose to remain mostly anonymous. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been different. I always liked different music, clothes and books that weren’t the same as what the popular kids liked. I know this doesn’t make me unique in the least, we have all felt left out or disconnected from our peers from time to time. But looking back at it, I realize I showed signs of being bipolar even as a child. It made for a difficult childhood and a miserable adolescence. Now that I am in my 30’s, I could write off the taunts as “kids being kids” or some other excuse for their cruelty. I am sad to realize that those same kids who teased and made my life miserable have grown into bullying, gaslighting adults. But the cherry on the sundae is that the cruelest treatment I’ve ever received has come at the hands of fellow females.
Calling girls and women “crazy” is a ridiculous epidemic. From guys who aren’t prepared for the emotional investment women make (see this brilliant article for more on this) to females who are envious of/frightened/intimidated by other females, calling women crazy is detrimental to everyone. Furthermore, in my opinion, calling a woman crazy who actually suffers from a mental illness is nothing short of cowardly bullying. It’s the old “I don’t understand it, so let’s destroy it” mentality.
Here’s the thing about mental illness: it affects everyone in some way, whether you are aware of it or not. I’ve previously quoted various statistics on the prevalence of mental illness in the US, and it’s more common than you realize. I am, by definition, mentally ill. I suffer from bipolar disorder II, major depressive disorder, with bouts of self injury and binge eating. I also hold down a full time job, have friends and family, have hobbies, and pay my taxes. My mental illness is a part of me, but it does not define me. Had I been alive 50 years ago, I would most likely be in an institution. Luckily for me, and millions of others, psychiatry and mental illness treatment have come a long way. But sadly, so many people don’t get treatment due to the stigma that continues to surround mental illness.
Let me explain that to you in a different way. If you wear something that accentuates that 5 lbs you put on in a month and people give you crap for that, chances are good those same people are going to make your life hell if you let on you’re binge eating, anorexic, anxious, bipolar or suffering from postpartum depression. Part of the solution to this is surrounding yourself with positive people who see the good in you, and another, larger part of the solution is to rethink our opinions and attitudes on emotions and mental illness.
To touch on Yashar Ali’s article I previously mentioned, girls aren’t crazy if they get emotionally invested in a guy after the guy gives the impression that he too, is invested. This miscommunication results in the girl being labeled “crazy”. What happens next? She feels wrong for having the emotions she’s been having. She experiences self doubt and insecurity and begins to believe that she really and truly is, crazy. To sum that up: girl and boy meet. Girl and boy begin talking regularly. Girl likes the boy, tells him, girl gets called crazy. Kinda screwy math, no?
In my personal experience, I’ve done some shitty things in my life, especially after my ex fiancee and I split. I’ve apologized and tried to make amends for the things I’ve done. I’ve accepted the fact that there’s a couple of people in the world who will hate me forever, but looking at the context, you get a different story. Was I crazy? No, but I was an untreated, non-diagnosed mentally ill person who had just suffered the most devastating heartbreak of my life. Did I behave in a dignified, loving manner? Hell no, I was an ass. But I had to rebuild my life and I didn’t have the means to try to put it back together so I raged against everything, including myself.
On a larger scale, the homeless guy you pass on your way to work everyday- is he crazy? drunk? Or is he a veteran suffering from PTSD who can’t afford his rent, meds, therapy and car payments? The barista who spelled your name on your coffee cup incorrectly? Lazy, not listening? Maybe she can’t hear very well or she’s busy hoping she gets out of work in time to pick up her child from day care. Context, empathy, whatever you want to call it, it needs to happen. We need to look at situations with our hearts open and mouth shut. We need to stop using cruel, insulting labels: “crazy” “retarded” “bipolar” “bitch” “fat”.
There are days when I feel like having mental illness is a curse, and other days I feel it’s given me more than I could imagine. I’ve learned to be more empathetic, warmer, to listen more carefully. It’s made me more purposeful and to say it’s humbling is an understatement. I believe we’re all amazing, capable and powerful beings and that no one is crazy, just wired differently. But if wanting to change the world a little at a time makes me crazy, then I guess I am.