I live within the stigma of mental illness.
I’ve been called crazy more times than I care to count, so many times I believed it was true. For a while, I embraced my “craziness” and acted out accordingly having found the perfect scapegoat for my actions. Don’t blame me, I’m just “crazy.”
To be fair, I’ve had issues with mental health since I was an overly anxious child. This was back in the 1970's when people were less open about it. If you went to a psychiatrist or, God forbid, took medication for mental illness, it was a one-way ticket to being called unstable and, yes, crazy.
I didn’t get the help I needed until after my first child was born in my late 20's. Postpartum depression slammed me hard in the days that followed. I couldn’t care for my newborn son, even to change his diaper or give him a bottle, and I felt like a monster as I watched my family take over my responsibilities and make it look easy.
My OB/GYN wrote me a prescription for Zoloft, which stabilized me to the point that I could function as a mother. I was fine for about six months before the next episode hit and I was hospitalized for a breakdown. My psychiatrist told me I suffered from clinical depression and would probably attempt suicide if I ever stopped my medication.
Where All The Craziness Started
Looking back, I came by it honestly. My mother had every diagnosis from schizophrenia to depression to adult ADD when I was growing up. People called her crazy, but instead of letting it get her down, she spoke openly about her mental illness and later in life became a mental health advocate. She taught me it was nothing to be ashamed of and that it was just another type of illness like diabetes or cancer. It just happened to be in our brains.
That was all well and good, but when I was honest about suffering from depression with family and friends, it was like somebody stamped the word “crazy” on my forehead. It was the excuse my first husband needed to run off with another woman after sixteen years of marriage. It was the reason some of my friends stopped calling me. It became an extension attached to my very existence. “You know Glenna, she’s crazy.”
The height of my craziness began after my husband left me fifteen years ago for the receptionist in his office. We made an attempt at couples’ therapy before we divorced, and I wept as he told the therapist how I seemed to have no joy in my life. He said I was dull and flatlined, never wanting to do or try anything new and never happy with anything.
In other words, I was depressed and crazy.
When My Situation Became Crazier
As a “crazy” person sometimes does, I carried the label into my next relationship with the man who would become my second husband. He was abusive as hell, and he called me crazy more than any other person I’d ever met. It was a way to keep me down, to doubt my own decisions and become totally dependent on him. I tried to leave him several times, but all he had to say was, “You’re too crazy to make it on your own or find somebody new,” and I’d go running back to him where I thought I was safe.
That was around the time when I began to self-medicate. My regular medications weren’t enough to stop the massive anxiety or uncontrollable crying or my racing thoughts, so I turned to alcohol and drugs to numb myself to everything around me. I developed an obsession with opiates because they gave me a sense of calm and well-being I otherwise lacked.
My friends tried desperately to help me get away from my abuser and the drugs, only to feel stabbed in the back when I didn’t have the will to survive on my own and returned to him. I couldn’t handle money or organize my life or battle the loneliness of my own mind. My friends gave me lots of suggestions, but I was overwhelmed and unable to follow through and manage my life. It didn’t take long before nobody was willing to help me anymore, and I felt even more isolated.
Although I believed I was batshit crazy back then, there was something inside me that truly wanted help. I wanted my friends back, too, but I knew the only way to make that happen was to stand on my own and walk out of my old life. I left my husband while he was at work, entered a women’s halfway house and learned how to do everything all over again, even something as simple as making my bed every morning.
I formed close relationships with the women there, and together we helped each other overcome our demons. Feeling stronger every day, I vowed never to go back to my old life and instead create something new. Nobody at the house ever called me crazy. Instead, we worked together and cared for each other as we built our new lives.
Fighting To Reach The Surface
Mental illness still plagued me as I tried to get myself together. My medication worked, but only up to a point, and I didn’t yet have the strength to pick up for its losses. I still made rash decisions and let the slightest disappointment bury me for days. Even though I was no longer in physical danger, I feared what was happening in my mind and that I would lose control again.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I received the correct diagnosis from a new doctor. He told me I had bipolar disorder and not depression, and suddenly everything in the world made sense. He changed my medications, and I felt capable again. I was able to check myself for highs and lows and fully understand where they were coming from. Sure, maybe it still meant I was crazy to other people, but it opened up a whole new life for me.
I’m still honest about my mental health today, but now I don’t take it to heart when somebody calls me the “C” word. I know I’ve come a long way despite my illness and my struggles. I’m proud of who I’ve become despite the malfunction in my brain, and in a strange way I think it makes me a better person. I have empathy for those that suffer just like me and a desire to help them overcome the stigma. I reach out more often to my friends and family to check on their mental well being and whether they’re doing okay. I write articles about what I’ve gone through in hopes people can relate and get the help they need.
The people who say we who suffer are “crazy” almost always have an agenda. They want to feel superior to us or keep us down or manipulate us for their own purposes. There’s nothing kind or helpful about that word at all. I used to hear it and believe it was true, but now I shrug it off. It’s just a word and only has power if you let it.
Yes, I have a mental illness, but that’s where it stops. It’s not who I am as a human being and doesn’t define me. Maybe if more people understood that, the world would be a better place, so I refuse to stop bringing it into the light and exposing it to help more people understand.
If that sounds like a crazy idea, I’m more than okay with it.