So Am I Crazy?
What a common - and frankly cliche - question. And yet how little we dwell on how what it means.
Let's try it out in a few contexts I've heard it before:
"I think my boyfriend is cheating on me."
"You're crazy! He loves you."
Seems harmless enough - doesn't it?
Let's try it again.
"I feel like I have nothing left to live for."
"You're crazy! You have a million things to live for."
One last one for good measure.
"My father is raping me and I want to report him."
"You're crazy! He wouldn't do that. Why would you want to ruin everything?"
So what do we see? Dismissal. "You're crazy" translates to "That doesn't make sense to me" in the best case scenario and "I don't want to hear it" in the worst. It's all fun and games until we're at the receiving end. Until we, too, are shut down.
"You're crazy!" Is another way of saying I'm not interested in hearing what you are going through because it make sense to me.
So what does this have to do with mental illness?
Mental illness, by definition, doesn't make sense to the average person. If you are mentally healthy, you don't think in a way that is mentally ill.
If you are mentally healthy, you don't understand how locking and unlocking and relocking your door three times before you leave the house could possibly make any difference.
If you are mentally healthy you don't understand how a lamp could be mistaken for a cat in broad daylight.
If you are mentally healthy, you couldn't understand why the president of the student body of one of the top ranked high schools in the United States could feel so worthless that he would kill himself.
An argument could easily be made for the pretense of a mental illness in each case. But are the individuals with these attributes crazy? Does the fact that we don't understand what someone is going through mean that they are crazy? That they are worth dismissing without another thought?
Let's be honest, though. Psychotic thoughts are hard understand. Delusions don't make sense. This is why we say that a person is "out of touch with reality" - because we assume that we are in touch with reality.
And I'm not argue that here. Most people are. Most people, when they see a tea pot, understand where it is in relation to the themselves, what its purpose is, and what it is capable of doing. If you set a group of 8 people who are in touch with reality down at a table and ask them about that teapot not only will their answers correspond but they will probably be annoyed with you for asking such a stupid question.
Most of us are in touch with reality.
But does that mean that the person that sees poisonous bugs crawling out of the tea kettle is crazy?
So what does it is like to be mentally ill, then?
Being mentally ill is like being in a dream.
Here's an example. A few years ago I had a dream where my Mother passed away. The depth of my despair while I was asleep was heart rending. I felt grief to my core when I watched my mother's coffin descend into the earth. It was so real, so intense, so unshakable that I literally had to call home when I woke up. My mother was still asleep (she had just come back from an all night shift) so I was chatting with my step-dad about the breakfast she had two hours before. And still, at the end of the conversation I was burning to ask, "So she's alive, then?"
That's mental illness. When reality gets turned on its side so much that even when we "wake up" we're not sure what happened wasn't real.
As a volunteer on the suicide prevention hotline I regularly hear people tell me in a state of profound depression, "I'm going to have to live in this pain forever. I've been here so long and it will never end."
Imagine if you were in a dream where intense emotional suffering was all there had ever been. How could you have the foresight or the self-awareness to say this isn't real - I'll wake up in two weeks once my medication has kicked in?
Would you say, "That's crazy!"?
Imagine if you were in a dream where every second you were followed by someone who wanted to kill you. Every second you didn't keep alert might be your last. Every person that caught up with you might mean that you wouldn't live another day.
Then would you say, "You're crazy!"?
Is talking to someone while they are in a dream as if they are not ever going to help them?
Or will it simply make them feel more frightened, more confused, and more alone?