Nuts, Crazy, Crackers, Bananas.

The word “crazy” gets thrown around a lot, and there’s usually not much more to it than, “That’s behavior I don’t understand so I’ll just toss it in the ‘crazy’ category so I know what to do with it.”

It’s a very small word with a lot of different definitions. Some of them are quite negative, and justifiably so, but I think the overuse of this word has actually robbed it of the impact that in some cases it needs to have.

There are some folks who think I’m crazy to be a “comedy groupie” for Hal Sparks, and that driving all over the continent to see him is bizarre, freaky or nutso. Granted it may be outside the norm, but generally speaking I and several others like me are mentally sound enough not to take it to a dangerous extreme. We don’t stalk him from the bushes or have unrealistic expectations of non-existent relationships; we simply enjoy him as a performer and get a lot of enjoyment out of the traveling to new places and meeting new people with similar interests.

It’s like watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show 1000 times in a theater – it’s a form of entertainment we enjoy and therefore continue to do to add some pizazz in our otherwise boring, “normal” lives.

Same thing with friends of mine who are covered in tattoos. They get judged for being “crazy” to permanently scar their skin with intensely personal artistic expressions they’re brave enough to wear for a lifetime on their body. Yet again these are folks who maybe love something to an extent “most” do not – but that doesn’t make them crazy.

To me crazy is when you no longer have any real control over your behavior, and this self-destructive drive manifests itself outwardly.

Just dismissing someone as crazy often means it’s their problem and you don’t have to do any more than judge it from the comfort of your armchair.

In fact, many people enjoy the spectacle. Which is why Charlie Sheen’s meltdown has become headline news lately. People are lapping it up and don’t care a smidge that there are innocent children involved who have to deal with this obviously disturbed individual on a constant basis.

There’s a part of human nature that likes to see the mighty fall – or the average do something completely apeshit so they can be amused, entertained or otherwise distracted from THEIR boring, “normal,” day to day.

Dunno… sounds kinda crazy….

The problem with this cavalier, voyeuristic exploitation of the word “crazy” is that when someone’s crazy behavior indicates a serious mental illness, no one is willing to give it any kind of credence at all. “They’re just crazy,” people dismiss, and because of that we get things like what happened in Tucson.

At some point someone who was really fast-tracking right off the rails interacted with someone else – someone sane – and they could tell that something was “not right.” Yet there’s a part of us that refuses to believe that someone could really be that disconnected from reality and thus really not *dangerous* (just ‘crazy’,) so we generally look the the other way or worse… wash our hands from our own responsibility to intervene. We pass it off to the next person and the next, figuring it’s not our problem until we are the ones with the gun to our heads.

And maybe that’s what we fear. It’s a lot easier to say, “That person is crazy,” than invest ourselves and risk ourselves to get involved and find a brake to the runaway train.

Frankly we don’t want the responsibility.

It’s scary… especially when you’re dealing with someone who is mentally disturbed.

The other side of this indifferent coin is we don’t want to be wrong. We don’t want to mix up the crazy, because some crazy is okay.

Is it a normal, quirky crazy that means they just have a habit they’re a little *too* passionate about (by our own definition)? Or is it locked up in the book tower, pantyhose on the head, taking shots at innocent bystanders crazy?

If we’re going by the former definition we’re all a little crazy in one way or another. Fortunately most of us won’t get to the latter because we aren’t really crazy at all. We’re quite sane, even if a bit quirky or unusual.

What’s crazy-insane is when we step over the line between the two. For most of us that’s a brick wall as high as the sky we couldn’t really get around because we’re just not capable of it.

The switch hasn’t flipped.

For others whose switch is wired a bit differently, it’s a chalk line on the sidewalk that just keeps moving further into dangerous territory every time someone just dismisses disturbing behavior as “normal/crazy.”

With this kind of ambivalence, true “crazy” gives way to psychotic eventually.

How does one go from not having a record, able to get guns, then go on a shooting rampage? It doesn’t happen overnight… many people are exposed to these warning signs way before the actual event. We watch it happen in disbelief, unable to believe that someone we could know or even love is capable of doing the unthinkable.

It’s a place none of us want to find ourselves, and being a spectator of this downward spiral is even more disheartening… because the ones who manage to dash over that line are generally incapable of recognizing the behavior because they’re NOT crazy – they’re sick.

I went through this with my first husband Dan, who was mentally ill when I didn’t even know it. I thought he was working through understandable emotional issues from his childhood, I had no idea there was something physically wrong with him to spur on “crazy” behavior.

What a revelation it was to me years later to find out that this was a misfiring in his brain that meant through therapy and medication he could be *better*. And by that point I knew that nothing else would stop the downward spiral until he self-destructed completely.

It was a life raft that I know in my heart too many people never get thrown. They end up lining the streets as the homeless or populating jail cells and self-medicate with alcohol, drugs and other equally self-destructive vices. Meanwhile spectators from the safety of their “non-crazy” lives are willing to dismiss this troublesome or frightening behavior as some sort of personal failure rather than a symptom of a tormenting mental illness.

In the same way we dismiss others as crazy, we try to assign our own mental attributes onto them as if they are sane… or at least as sane as we think we are.

It’s as fun to judge these sad souls as it is to watch them stumble and fall… which is why Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen dominate the headlines whenever they act as crazy as we as a society have already decided they are.

I find it all terribly, terribly sad. Because I know it’s all terribly, terribly unnecessary.

And I think if anyone ever really understood mental illness they’d never fling around the word “crazy” as some dismissive label to stick on anyone we don’t understand.

Mental illness is nothing to laugh at – OR dismiss.

In fact, by dismissing this behavior as just generic “crazy” we in fact validate this disturbing behavior and encourage it to get worse. And it will get worse. Nothing tests the boundaries like true “crazy”. It will keep erasing that line on the sidewalk and marking it further and further until someone is brave enough and strong enough to put a stop to that behavior.

It has to be someone outside of the individual, because they are too ill to make this determination for themselves.

And, just as a personal aside, anyone who encourages the deranged delusions of someone who is seriously mentally ill just to make a buck should be ASHAMED of themselves certainly – but I would make an argument that legal charges should be filed if these sick individuals act on any behavior these charlatans encouraged.

Because we have an equal part in the “crazy.” If we witness this troubling behavior and do nothing, not only will the mentally ill person be a danger to him or herself, but we will be an accomplice to the behavior we could have alerted someone else to before it went too far.

This is especially true of anyone who is married to or related to someone who is so clearly off the rails.

Love them enough to get them the help they are not well enough to know they need.

Some are quite adept at manipulating health care providers to fly *just under* the radar (and IMO are even MORE dangerous because they’re at least sane enough to know how crazy they are), but those who live with these folks day in and day out KNOW what’s going on.

I’ve been there. I know. I know the excuses that you make. I know the way you use yourself as a barrier between the person you love and the world around them. I know that you are equally tormented because you don’t know what it’s going to mean for your life and your family if you have to take drastic measures (like getting someone committed so they can get the extensive 24/hour care they need ASAP).

It’s scary. I get that.

But I can promise if you don’t get help for them somewhere down the line they will do something so extreme, so unequivocally crazy your choices will be taken away from you in the same way that your loved one’s will be taken away from him or her. That prospect is a lot scarier.

Especially when it becomes a legal issue you will be considered an accomplice to the behavior for your failure to properly meet the needs of this person when they needed you most.

If strangers are stepping in, take the hint.

So if you are anyone you love are facing some very upsetting mental disturbances, reach out for help. Don’t cross a line that cannot be uncrossed.

Sometimes the most loving thing you can ever do is to make the hard choice for someone who isn’t able to make choices for him or herself.

And if you’re lost in your own head and you are having a hard time deciphering fantasy from reality… know that I don’t think you’re “crazy.”

I think you’re sick.

I know it’s easier to believe those things you want to believe, but nothing good comes from fixating on a fantasy. The more you need to deny reality to make sense of your delusions, the more you risk the people around you. Nothing is worth the reality you already have.

Please, PLEASE get help.


5 thoughts on “Nuts, Crazy, Crackers, Bananas.

  1. This was a fascinating read from someone who is “crazy”, though I certainly don’t think of myself as sick. Sick conjures images that just don’t apply to me. I’m damaged and hurting, sure, but not so much on the sick. I don’t do the sorts of things “sick” people do. I don’t hurt other people, and I’ve become really high functioning, one of those sorts you consider “dangerous”, capable of living “under the radar”.

    Here’s the difference, I know I’m suffering a good deal from the mental problems I have, largely created as a result of abuses I faced in childhood. I realize that I need help keeping reality and delusion clearly marked in my mind.

    Perhaps the problem isn’t these people being “sick” but more the stigma placed on mental disorders in this country. As a schizophrenic, I’m terrified to tell people about my disorder, and I do consider it a disorder, not an illness. I’m not sick and no amount of medication will make it “better”, just more orderly, though with schizophrenia, even that’s debatable for the negative impact it often has. I’m afraid because people will label me, avoid me, and I could even lose my kids. What little control I have over my life might spiral into nothingness, which might just make things worse instead of better.

    No, the answer isn’t to marginalize things by making “crazy” something easy to pass off, but I think there needs to be more acceptance that not all of us who are “crazy” are sick individuals who are out to harm ourselves and others, and that some of us, even without help, can manage to keep things under control until we’re comfortable enough with the idea of help that we can get it without fear of persecution.

    1. It’s a waltz across landmines, that’s for sure. But to be clear I don’t consider high-functioning to be dangerous and under the radar; you seem to be very self-aware of your disorder and that’s far different than those who keep the “crazy” behavior just under the radar so that they’re never diagnosed at all.

      There is a stigma, and it’s unfortunate. Schizophrenia is a disorder that my first husband suffered from and I know that he was tormented beyond what he could control – way more when he didn’t get help than when he did. I guess my biggest warning for anyone who has these ailments (and by ailments and sickness I just mean that like any other physical affliction it’s a deviation from the normal processes and functioning) to trust in the system that is there to help when things get beyond what you can manage.

      The true danger is someone who has a serious delusional disorder and still insists he or she is 100% sane and doesn’t need any help just to keep entertaining their delusions (like an intimate relationship with someone they’ve never met.) That’s not just delusional but self-delusional and potentially dangerous. These people are just manipulative enough to “play sane” to continue this disruptive and dangerous behavior.

      That’s when it ceases being “crazy” and becomes psychotic. And that’s where I was going with the blog. Sure the behavior is “crazy,” but the illness is what needs the focus.

      My biggest concern is not the stigma from other people and the mentally ill – but the stigma that so many mentally ill feel it’s some failure on their part to admit that they actually have these issues. Because they’re the ones who will stop themselves from getting help, and there’s no reason for that.

      I’ve been there with my first husband and I know that it can be life-changing. Getting that help gave my husband his life back. I want that for anyone who is suffering in silence thinking no one gets them or can help.

      The help is there.

  2. I can definitely understand your perspective on that, and perhaps I did take it a little too personally. It’s easy to do when society has such a standard of lumping everyone together.

    The fact that you stuck by your first husband to get him help is amazing. I know I wouldn’t have that same strength, but I think the experience would have ended badly for all involved. I learned that by getting involved with someone who was bi-polar and enjoyed his “under the radar” status far too well. I thought he was like me, who had stayed “under the radar” for years, but could function and was no danger to anyone but myself, and when I was in fear of being a danger to myself, I got help. He was a positively frightening man, and I spent my days being terrified to set him off, but he wouldn’t get help and I didn’t even know where to start with getting him help whether he liked it or not. I know how scary it can be.

    Some days are better than others, so I know how hard it can be, and I can only imagine for the lives I touch how challenging those bad days are. I can’t imagine where I’d be without the help and support I do get.

    Honestly, your message is an important one. There are people out there that do need help, and if you can make an impact to support one person in getting their loved one much needed help, then you’ve made a world of difference. I really did judge your words harshly at first because it’s easy to be defensive as someone with a mental disorder, but in truth, I should be thanking you because someone like you had the courage to help me find my way before I’d fallen to far.

    1. That’s my one hope. The responsibility I feel as a writer is to make words count. To make people think, to make people feel, to maybe give them something to consider they haven’t considered before. So… fingers crossed.

      (But that Charlie Sheen can attract over a million followers in the space of a day makes it that much clearer that far more people are willing to be a spectator than a liberator. So sad.)

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