Ever since I succumbed to a physical and mental breakdown in December and have been undergoing intensive psychotherapy, I have learned an interesting fact about people: they do not like you to call yourself crazy when the context is that you are actually crazy.
I mean, crazy can mean something good on so many other occasions: “Your hair looks crazy good today.” “Girl, you are so crazy, I love you for it.” “You won a LuLaRoe shopping spree? That is CRAZY.”
People are comfortable to use the word crazy in any number of contexts. But when I use it in place of “post-traumatic stress induced mood and anxiety disorders with depressive cycles and obsessive-compulsive tendencies,” everyone freaks out like I am a baby who has just licked something disgusting off the floor, running toward me, shaking their hands, “No, no, no, don’t say that about yourself, you are not crazy. You have an illness. And look at you, you are in therapy. You are working so hard. And you are going get better.”
These comments leave me thinking two things: First, these people are a bit like an attending healthcare provider who hasn’t experienced labor promising you it won’t be that painful. Second, these people are missing the point entirely. The point being that this entire situation actually does qualify as crazy, and I am not being self-deprecating when I call myself that.
When you are a highly adaptive, over-achieving extrovert, wife of almost twenty years, homeschooling mom to five sons, Catholic missionary and non-profit founder, writer and speaker, and it’s a week before Christmas and you suddenly find yourself in the hospital because you just, well, cracked under accumulated anxiety and stress and also no one ever really diagnosed that long list of things mentioned above, life gets really crazy.
Second of all, we still live in a culture, especially a religious culture, where talking openly about mental illness is awkward for everyone, if not totally taboo. If you are the person who had the mental breakdown and is going through all the intensive therapy and people who are not sure what to say and are always asking things like, “How are you?” “Let me know how things are.” “Do you need anything?” in hushed, drawn out tones that allow you to see the concern lines furrowed between their brows even in a Facebook message, you get to decide what response works for you. Because you are the one in the heat of this battle for your brain and your body and your life and you are often tired and too emotionally foggy to know the answer to any of those questions.
For me, using the term “crazy” works. There’s a hinge of humor behind it. It feels appropriately vitriolic when I need it too. And dramatically artistic as a side-bonus. It is, in fact, an offering and an acceptance of mercy.
When I call myself crazy, it is my reminder to extend myself a little extra kindness and compassion for all the ways it seems I have negatively affected my family’s life over the last few months and for the stress I have caused other people. When I call myself crazy, I am moving toward acceptance that I can be all that string of words in the diagnosis above and at the same time still be all the string of words in the description of myself above. I just need a little more care and rest and medication to do it than most people. And for right now, I cannot be all of that at once. I have to pick and choose slowly and carefully as I recover. And there is a softness, a mercy, in “crazy” that allows me that mercy for myself.
I can use the term to interact with others in this sensitive time and be honest about what I am dealing with, but leave the deep vulnerability of acceptance and the work of getting well, the stuff of the big, long words, safely between me, myself and God.
Crazy is not so much an adjective I plan to cling to as my identity forever as it is a safe place I have created as I recover. Maybe one day, I won’t need the safety of the word the way I need it right now. But if you hear me calling myself crazy any time soon, this is your permission to just smile or laugh or hug me or sit silently depending on the context and not try to take it away from me.
Because this is my cross, and I have fallen, and I am making my way back up from my knees so I can keep walking. And this is my moment to burrow close in my heart next to my suffering Jesus and let Him tell me I’ll be okay until I believe it. And calling myself crazy is the act of mercy that keeps me from hiding from the world while we do that work.
Plus, it’s more off-putting than it is frightening to people, and that makes me feel less awkward and less likely to fill that awkward space by saying actually crazy things, so let’s go with. At least until Easter comes, and then maybe I’ll be ready to sing “alleluia” crazy-loud with the rest of the world.
Written by Colleen Mitchell. Find out more about her here.