Growing up I thought crazy people were crazy. Because that sounds simple enough, right?
When I was younger, I watched films and read books about patients in white gowns with unkempt hair and spacey eyes. I can admit it: I was scared of them. I remember feeling that I was in an entirely different sphere than them; that I could never relate.
In my adulthood I began to learn that sometimes, the “crazy” people are the “normal” ones. Certainly, sometimes mental illness does look the way it is depicted in the movies. Sometimes those who are suffering do sit in a psychiatric ward, and perhaps they don’t always brush their hair. Sometimes they have to swallow pills every day, and the nurse suspiciously checks their open mouths afterwards. Sometimes they are surrounded by doctors in white lab coats or need to be strapped to their beds for their own protection.
And then sometimes, they stray away from what people know from movie screens, and they enter the everyday. Sometimes they sit at their desks from nine to five and wonder why they bothered getting up that morning. Or why they even went through the trouble of brushing their hair. Sometimes they swallow pills, and it is a concerned mother that checks their open mouth afterwards. Sometimes it is not doctors in white coats that surround them, but instead, it is people they know and love and who love them. Yet they still can’t find a reason to get out of bed–even if they aren’t strapped down to it.
I think the concept of normalcy is our first problem. I want to throw that idea out the window, because it doesn’t exist. There is no normal. There is only YOUR normal. We live in a society where it is not okay to not be okay. We live in a place where, when a person asks you how you’re doing, your response is expected to be “Fine.” We live in a society of constant competition. Who is the happiest? And who can prove that happiness best via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter?
I was excited for college. I expected to instantly fall in with a group of friends and establish my place, as I felt I had established it in high school. I expected to be the founder of a club by second semester and a record-breaking athlete by junior year. People would notice me. My professors would care. I would be the type of student that walked around and waved to people on campus; a familiar face.
They don’t tell you what it’s going to be like. You don’t read about it in your course catalog or see it in the images on the website. At orientation they don’t prepare you for it, either. While you’re busy awkwardly doing a trust-fall into a stranger’s arms and hoping that means you are friends, you don’t realize how hard it will be.
Throughout the first couple of months of college, I felt like I was trying to balance on two beach balls on top of the ocean. I was constantly slipping and trying to find my footing. I was constantly sinking. I felt I had something to prove to my friends from high school. I was convinced that instead of talking to them about how I felt, I should be showing them how happy I was with my new friends, proving that I was just as happy as them. My boyfriend at the time was happy, too. I thought if everyone else was good, I should be good, too.
It was around that time that I met one of my best friends and current roommate. I had finally started to find a group of friends I fit in with. I felt like maybe things were falling into place. I was proving my happiness in all the right places: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; and it even reflected through the grades on my transcript. However, I still went through inexplicable ups and downs. I had all the ingredients for normalcy, but I felt I was somehow botching the end result. This would continue on and off for the rest of freshman year and will probably continue for the rest of my life. However, freshman year something happened that made my whole perspective on the subject matter shift.
My friend and now current roommate’s good friend from high school committed suicide our freshman year. I watched her fall apart in front of me. I knew there was nothing I could say; that I had never experienced such heartbreak. The words and comfort I wanted to give her were inadequate in every way. I watched the ripple effect that taking your own life has on all those around you, and marveled at how just like me, her friend had seemed so “normal.”
I firmly believe that when something truly terrible happens you have two options. You can do the easy thing: give up. You can throw in the towel, curse the heavens, and wonder how something so awful could happen to you. Or you can do the extremely hard thing: keep going. You can try to find a light in a dark place; you can try to light the wet match in the middle of the woods in the pouring rain. That is what my roommate, her friends, and her late-friend’s family did.
They began to educate people in surrounding communities, colleges, and essentially everyone within earshot about mental health. They educated me. The statistics were bone-chilling. One in ten of every college students contemplates suicide. At some point, maybe I had been that one, wondering if it was all worth it.
Watching the love that rallied around a boy I didn’t even know changed me. It made me realize that so many people do care, and so many people want to hear the “not fine” answer. And that is exactly what we need.
It made me realize how many “crazy” people walk among us. And that even if I got up, brushed my hair, and put on a smile in the morning, I wasn’t necessarily okay. I learned that no one really is totally okay–and that might be fine.
Through the next couple years of college, I felt like my eyes were finally open. I noticed the signs of depression, anxiety, insecurity, and more among my friends. I watched beautiful girls look into the mirror and pull at the skin on their bellies in disgust. I watched brilliant writers knock themselves down and discredit their intelligence. I watched how easily happiness could slip between someone’s fingers, and how tight depression’s grip could be.
I noticed that none of us are alone in feeling alone.
I really do hate the idea of being normal. It really irks me. It is that idea, and ideal, that throws all of us “crazy” people off.