My friend had her purse stolen in Lisbon last week. We were staying together at a lovely AirBnB right near the river, and it had never occurred to us that we might not be able to get back into our apartment that day. Thankfully, I had my keys on me at the time her purse was stolen, and we were able to get back home. But for the rest of the trip, my vigilance over my keys and wallet — the only source of money we had left — became unmanageable. Before I would leave the apartment, I would hover in the doorway, checking my purse for the essentials over and over again. I would fill my pockets with my spare card and my housekey, constantly checking and rotating them in case I also had my purse lifted. Checking my belongings upwards of fifty times a day became a ritual.
And one I could easily justify, because our ability to get home really depended on it. But it was also a good time to give into my natural tics, to allow myself to be crippled in fear with what could happen if I wasn’t hyper-attentive, to ignore the fact that I tend to be this way in the comfort of my own neighborhood. While checking my pockets and transferring their contents for the tenth time one morning, I had the thought I’ve been having more and more over the past eight months: “Maybe I’m not crazy, but I’m pretty close. I’m almost crazy.”
Crazy is an ugly word. Crazy Girl is an even uglier idea. Its fraught with drama and “hysterics” and all of these unflattering terms we tend to only ascribe to women. But as I sat in my doctor’s office six months ago, telling him about my internal tremors and my panic attacks and my 25th consecutive year of being unable to sleep, I couldn’t help but feel the ivy of crazy growing around my shell of normalcy. He prescribed me one medication, then mentioned a second, but we both decided that we hadn’t exhausted all non-pharmaceutical options. I’m no purist, but I believe in the power of exercise and good food and being in the sun whenever possible. Come springtime, I thought, I would be much better off.
I know so many women like me. Not quite “crazy,” in the way we hurl it at women, but on the edge of so many things. Anxious, depressed, obsessive, and made all the more so by a world that holds horror stories for what can happen if you come out as mentally ill. Fifty years later, we still have the image of the bored housewife being electroshocked into placid happiness. And a too-needy text message can easily become probable cause for a man to leave you, to mock you to his friends, to write you off as just another Crazy Girl. So many of us contain it, subvert it, and wake up in the middle of the night, short of breath.
Are we crazy? Are we sick? Are we the kind of girl that is simply too complicated to find a good relationship, destined to live out a real-life Cathy comic? Men with deep neuroses can have rich, revered careers, or even spawn a whole genre of human — who hasn’t met a Woody Allen type? — but women with these neuroses often feel relegated to their illness. We love F Scott, but forget what he did to Zelda. And running along the edge of sickness is never a pleasant feeling, particularly when we know what happened to the women who fell off the other side.
“You need to calm down,” my friend told me in Lisbon. After no more than 15 minutes of mourning her lost purse — keys, iPhone, wallet — she got to calling her banks to cancel her card, and asking where we were going to go for dinner. It’s not that she doesn’t care, it’s just that she knows that worrying about it isn’t going to make it come back, that ruining her vacation over something that’s already happened is only punishing herself.
Needless to say, I envy her deeply. She’s not perfect, but she has a firm hold on the kind of cool collectedness that we celebrate in women. She gives off a comforting vibe, even in panicky situations. And she’s usually right about when it is and isn’t worth getting upset.
We got home fine. And truth be told, I felt a little ridiculous for letting the Crazy Girl flare up in such a dramatic way, over such a relatively small problem. But learning to identify my irrational fears while not writing myself off because of them is a harder problem than I imagined it would be. Because illness in women comes with so many asterisks, and so many horror stories. And as much as I want to be independent, I also want to be accepted. I want to be loved. And occasionally, it’s hard to remember that Almost-Crazy Girls are worth loving, too.