The Distance to Crazy

While I’ve repeatedly addressed depression through my adult life, it’s only been in the last few months that I’ve started trying on the word “disabled” for size. Disabled felt comfortably vague. It’s been mere weeks since I’ve referred to myself as mentally ill. Isn’t that interesting? Depression is definitely a mental illness, but “I am mentally ill” feels different than, “I have depression”.

Crazy is something else even beyond that.

That little word crazy gets a lot of mileage. It has a lot of meanings, although they generally all boil down to the negative stereotypes we have about mentally ill people. Bad, evil, unimaginable, violent, wrong. Frantic, out-of-control, fantastic, unpredictable. Too much. Too big. Too fast.

I know people who are crazy. Dissociative identity disorder definitely means you’re crazy, right? I know at least two people who are that kind of crazy. Crazy also means things like kooky, eccentric, “out there”. I know people who are that kind of crazy, too. Being involuntarily committed because of self-injury or alcohol-related behavior, that’s probably crazy, yes? I know people with that experience. All of these people are my friends. I love them, respect them, think they’re smart, capable, interesting people worth knowing and having around. Even though they are also crazy. Maybe because they are crazy. Maybe I like crazy, given that I know so much of it.

I have previously tried calling myself crazy and found the word wanting. I can lay claim to the term because depression is a mental illness, but it didn’t sit perfectly. I know some mental disability writers who use the word “madness” and it doesn’t sit well with me, either. It sounds too romantic. And it sounds like crazy. Which is something that I’m not.

Then I went to see a new psychiatrist. I had tried Zoloft for awhile with the last treatment place. I didn’t like the place; I didn’t like the results on Zoloft. I tried not being on anything again for awhile. Yeah. That wasn’t working, either.

New place. New doctor. New session. The first one with all the questions. I love the questions. Oh, you mean I get to talk about myself for an hour? Bring it on.

At the end of the session, the doctor said, “Bipolar”.

She said, “Yes, yes, you have depression and anxiety, too, but bipolar.”

Turns out I’m crazy.

That day the person you’re paying a gazillion dollars to tell you what’s wrong with you tells you you’re crazy is the day that you really find out what you think about crazy people. I spent a good long while trying to deny that I could be crazy. I’m not crazy! I’m depressed! I’m just a little bit sad! Yes, I’m the kind of sad that cries in a ball in the cold water in the shower in a completely dark room. But I’m not crazy! Just a little dreary. Yes, by “dreary” I mean having completely nonsensical thoughts about how somehow I am the mastermind of all that is wrong in the world.

Turns out I was already crazy, even if I was calling it depression.

But now that I’m calling it bipolar, a whole new perspective opens up. It’s kind of confusing. Life is about storytelling. It’s about what kind of narrative you build about the things that happen to you and the things that you do. You can never remember every single detail, and you can certainly never relate every single detail to another person. So we storytell. We pick and choose. We fit ourselves into the plot and the roles that we’ve chosen.

I’ve been going back through the 15 years and trying on the filter of bipolar rather than the filter of depression. It makes some things make sense. There are ways I’ve behaved in the past that come in cycles and that are pretty stereotypically manic. I’ve previously thought of them as just “not depressed”. But I’ve also been distressed about not being able to fit back into those behaviors even when I am feeling not depressed. Describing them as mania makes the story make some sense.

On the other hand, it’s pretty damn disturbing to chalk entire relationships, entire parts of my personality, entire years to “episodes”. It’s even more disturbing to think about “curing” them. On the other hand, my depression is nearly unbearable sometimes, so I’d give up a lot of things to relieve it.

I’ve started on a new treatment path with this new diagnosis as the starting point. It’s too soon to tell how it’s going.

And I’ve started getting comfortable with the word crazy. I was fooling myself when I thought I wasn’t. I was harboring a hierarchy of mental illness and holding on to negative beliefs about mentally ill people that I didn’t know were there. Now that I’ve noticed those thoughts they certainly aren’t allowed to stay.

I am a mentally ill person. I am mentally disabled. I have depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. I am crazy. Nice to meet ya.

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