After a really long time, I am addressing this, something I haven’t ever addressed directly since my diagnosis. I think that was because a part of me wanted to deny it. I’ve written about mostly everything under the sun, but I have never touched upon this specifically, maybe in passing, maybe as a joke but never seriously dwelled on it on this blog.
I thought if I unpacked it, I’ll probably ruffle feathers but I have long since given up on maintaining appearances. You have no idea how many times I have heard both those words, ‘crazy’ and ‘depressed’ being used in one sentence directed towards me since I began telling people about my situation. Sometimes I too would use them both in reference to myself before the others said it, to make them comfortable, to make them feel at ease around me. This came at the cost of my feeling of uneasyness around them because it was more important for them to see that I take this lightly.
I think when we fall ill to avoid stepping on toes we allow others to step on ours, we want them to behave the same way around us so we stifle ourselves. We allow them to be politically incorrect and in a way mock us to help ease their confusion and awkwardness which means taking all the blows and then trying to address them in therapy.
I used to do that because my own illness made me uncomfortable. As much as I like to think I am broad-minded, I am only that broad-minded when it comes to others’ situations. But, when it comes to me I am extremely harsh on myself. I give myself no leeway or empathy. Who said that just because I suffer from depression I am open-minded about it in my own situation? That’s a false claim.
In fact, I have called myself ‘crazy’ only to be corrected by those around me, telling me that to degrade myself is unfair to my mental health. I agree, but sometimes I will be honest, I hate myself for having been depressed, to have needed to go to the psychiatrist and therapist and for having to put my family through that whole process.
Nowadays I hear statements like, “depression is so rampant, everybody has a mental health issue, it’s so common, it’s crazy” or, “everybody is crazy in some way.” When I say I happened to suffer from depresion I am usually met with the response, “Wow! It’s like everybody’s going crazy these days.” The last response stings and I laugh it off hoping the person is joking. While misery loves company, we really need to start understanding that ‘crazy’ doesn’t describe every mental health issue out there. Just like feeling ‘sad’ and being ‘depressed’ don’t mean the same thing, ‘craziness’ and ‘mental health issues’ are not synonymous.
Some habits born out of these issues may seem ‘crazy’, some of the experiences may sound ‘crazy’ but the people themselves are still like you and me with their own problems and experiences. By ‘you and me’ I mean all of us. We don’t call a person who has a fever crazy, or who has Chickenpox, or Diabetes, but if it is a mental illness it’s suddenly certifiably ‘crazy’.
I am not trying to nitpick, it’s good to take problems lightly and not make a big deal out of them. We don’t have to announce from rooftops that we are ill or wear it like a badge or even make it our entire identity. But let’s call it as it is. Personally, even though there is still a need for awareness about mental health in our society, the people who do have awareness give it the same ignorant treatment.
Somehow being a mental health patient myself suddenly makes it ok for me to call myself ‘crazy’ and give it the same ignorant treatment. It’s still my defense mechanism where my instinct says, if I don’t want to alienate the people around me I should be able to tease myself. It’s actually counter-productive.
I have debated this internal turmoil, sometimes when I do correct someone else about it, I see their face change. It turns into that tell-all, awkward expression where you can see them thinking, “Man, isn’t she being too sensitive? Anything we say will be held against us,” where they want to roll their eyes but can’t.
That’s why I try to say nothing, I try to smile. But is it so difficult to distinguish ‘craziness’ and ‘mental health issues’? Why is it ok to joke about certain health conditions and not others, this isn’t resticted to mental health, we think some health conditions can be reduced to jokes. We’ve made hierarchies of suffering, that’s what we have done, and that’s a terrible way to think.
It’s like kicking the person when they’re down. Someone is suffering enough without you having to try and dissipate your own discomfort by joking about it. When people talk about what they’re going through, the least you can do is deal with your feelings of awkwardnass and discomfort. Why does the person who is sick have to make you feel comfortable and accommodate your incomprehension?
Usually, when someone asks what happened, I now ask them, “Do you really want to know, or are you asking out of courtesy?” It takes them by surprise, but for my own benefit, selfishly I ask them this. It saves both parties a lot of misunderstanding and discomfort. Sometimes people start with, “I heard you had depression…” It’s not really a question, they’re looking for confirmation so I just say, “Yes.” They wait expecting something more, but I will not tell them unless they ask.
I have learnt that my family is not uncomfortable about this anymore, and if they joke about my depression it’s out of a place of awareness and isn’t meant to hurt, and I laugh because it’s genuinely funny. We all know when someone is joking out of goodwill and when someone is joking out of ignorance. I laugh with my best friends about it, because they’ve been there throughout, they know everything. I am not saying I am not crazy, but I am not crazy because of my experience with depression, anxiety and OCD, because all of that has a cure and I am finding that increasingly I am being cured.
Nobody needs to read books, do research, and follow the news to distinguish between ‘craziness’ and ‘mental health issues’, you just need to be a little more sensitive. If someone comes and tells me that they are suffering from a health issue or condition, I will not say, “Everybody is crazy in some way.” Suffering from a mental health issue like Depression, Anxiety or OCD or so many others (I talk about these threee specifically only because these are the ones I have faced, not because of any other reason), doesn’t mean that we’re all a part of one big ‘crazy’ family. If that were the case, we’d all have to introduce ourselves as, “Hi, nice to meet you, I am Crazy and you are?”