Am I crazy? Or is crazy just a construct of society?
This question has been plaguing me for years. For years I've felt odd, I've not felt normal. I was 'that girl who self harms' and now I'm 'that girl who doesn't feel ready for a full-time job *rolls eyes*'. I've felt crazy. That's the only word that ever came to mind. In those stupid 'get to know each other' first seminars of each uni term in which you had to describe yourself the first word that came to mind was always crazy, or fucked up, or anything but normal. But what if crazy doesn't exist?
I've honestly been thinking about this quite intensely for the past few months. What if the notion of being crazy has been brought out by the media and by our society to make people with mental health problems 'other'. I know, I know, this sounds like the start of a conspiracy theory, but just hear me out. We live in a capitalist society. The more productive you are, the more worth you have. Productivity comes in a variety of manners: motherhood is a physical form of productivity, the arts are creative forms of it, banking is an economic form and so on and so forth. We're encouraged to look up to the people that produce the most. We're told to seek partners that make money to keep our lives stable, the media plasters images of celebrities that produce content for us to consume, and even in the blogging sphere, we're asked to look to the big bloggers making the big bucks to justify our desire to blog. It's all about productivity. But people with mental health problems are excluded from that: we're not productive. We have days when we can't produce anything, even the effort to make food for ourselves, or the energy to engage in normal behaviours such as showering.
So what if society makes people with mental health problems 'other'? What if a divide has been created between 'them' and 'us': the normals and the crazies? What if that divide is there to discourage people from accepting mental health problems and becoming unproductive? This is something that I'm starting to think is more and more likely. Now, before we go on, I'm not calling people with mental health problems 'crazy'. I'm using the term to describe the category that we're put into. We're separated from people without mental health issues by this term. And it's everywhere. There's the hate on 'psycho ex-girlfriends' and 'crazed radicals' and 'people in the nut house'. The more you think about it, the more you see it. Even in everyday conversation, if somebody's acting odd they get called 'mad'. It's a way to segregate the mentally ill from those who are not, and the fact that it permeates everyday society and is used to 'other' people who aren't mentally ill just encourages the stigma.
I realise that I've used the phrase 'to other' quite a bit now. I'm talking about making a group of people seem different, seem alien, and in that way create a divide between 'them' and 'us'. It's been done to women (in particular the vagina) and people of colour for centuries. The 'other' is mysterious, it's dangerous and it's something you don't want to be associated with. By making something 'other' you discourage people from learning more about a certain group of people. Mental illness is other: it's scary, it's something we don't understand, and so it's something we avoid.
Is is any wonder that so many people suffer from mental health problems in silence? Even when I was writing this post, I considered whether I wanted to 'brand' myself as being a 'crazy', someone who suffers from mental illness, the 'other' in society. It made me anxious, and if I'm honest, it made me a little scared. The media endlessly presents us with accounts of people who have been turned down from jobs because of their openness about mental health issues. We're warned not to speak out: it might damage our careers, it might damage our relationships. This secrecy of the invisible disease creates a further divide. It's not just the normals vs the crazies, it's the crazies vs the normals. We're told that we won't be understood, that we'll face hate, that we'll face rejection. But do you know what? Since starting to discuss mental health issues on my blog, not one of those warnings has come true. I've faced no vitriol, no hate comments, my employer hasn't warned me not to discuss my own health. It's been fine. So why all the warning?
I've also found that the notion of being 'crazy' is mostly used to describe white people in the UK (correct me if you think otherwise). Why bother segregating ethnic minorities when other language is already used to do it? We see the white terrorist being called a 'crazed youth' and we're told he has mental health problems. But a non-white terrorist? They're just a religious fanatic. They're exiled with that language. There's not many ways in which you can outcast a white hetero man from mainstream society, but the media and governing bodies need to find a way to say 'we're not like him. He's not one of us'. So he's not an extreme Christian: that's too close to home. He's mentally ill instead. People are encouraged to disassociate themselves from him: 'I'm a Christian, but I'm mentally sound, so I'm not like him'.
In all of these ways, the mentally ill are boxed off with the notion of being crazy, or insane, or whatever other word you want to use. But what if we're not so different? I've visited a mental health ward and honestly? It's nothing like what you'd expect. It's, for want of a better word 'normal'. There's recreational areas, patient rooms, visitor lounges, places to grab a snack. It reminded me of all the other hopsital wards I've been to. Yes, there are things in place for people's safety, some people weren't allowed outside of the ward, but there were no wardens patrolling every move, no extreme monitoring of every breath people took. It wasn't like what people have made it out to be.
I would love to see a reduction in the notion of being crazy. In films and TV programmes, the mentally ill person is always stared at, segregated, pointed at in the school yard and such. But in real life that doesn't happen. You're different, yes, but so is everyone else. Mental illness is as serious as any other illness, but it doesn't deserve segregation; nothing does. There are no 'crazies' and no 'normals'. We're all unique, we all struggle with some things, and some people's minds are simply structured in different ways.
I think there's a reason why men don't seek as much help as women, and why their suicide rates are higher, and part of it is wrapped up in this capitalist productivity and segregation. If you're mentally ill then you're not productive, and if you're not productive, then you don't hold as great a value to society. But if we begin to break down these walls then maybe men will be able to speak out more. Sadly there are still a lot of expectations which state that men need to be the main bread-winner; they need to dress well, they're the 'rock' in the relationship, they need to pay for the dates, and being mentally ill undermines that.
At the moment, our society dictates (albeit sometimes subtly) that a man with mental health problems is worth less than another man. You disrupt the cycle of productivity with this problem; you disrupt the capitalist machine. So much of what we see in the media contributes to this idea of the stable man: how often do we see men with mental health problems being at the centre of a TV programme or film compared to women? I honestly cannot think of a single example. Even simple things like always portraying a man with his arm around his woman, or handing over the cash for a drink, or even making a phone call about household problems contributes to it. This is the 'normal' man: the one who provides emotional support, financial bearing and takes control when things go wrong. But a man with mental health problems is not necessarily able to do that. And where's his role model to look to? Where is any kind of media that says that that's okay, that let's him know he isn't confined by the box of normality? It doesn't exist.
All in all, I think we need to do everything we can to break down this 'othering'. Discuss mental health problems with people who don't suffer. We're not all that different. Encourage the men (and women) in your lives to speak about your feelings. Remember that you hold an inherent worth: it doesn't matter how little or how much money you make, or what job you have, or whether you're a mother or a father. You're you, and that is enough, no matter what the media says. You're not crazy; crazy is just a word, an ideal, a form of separation. And we need to fight against it.