She was walking down the street once, at night, and a man started to follow her.
"I started hugging myself like I was crazy," she said.
"You did what?"
"Just hugging myself," she repeated. "Kind of like --" and with this she motioned with her hands "-- just bobbing, and swaying all over, talking to myself real loud, laughing."
"And did it work?"
"Of course it worked," she laughed. "Men are terrified of crazy women."
Don't know if that's true or not. But I do know that I hear the phrase "crazy woman" a lot, as in: "crazy woman boss," "crazy woman driver," "crazy mother," "crazy old lady," and so on. Pop culture is filled with stories of women being told "you're crazy" whether they're confronting a cheating boyfriend or standing up against systemic corruption and abuse.
I got to thinking about this topic today, as I saw a homeless woman on the street who looked about my age. She told me her story, and told me that she'd been homeless for years but spent her time in the public library. "I do everything I can to research my situation," she said. "I am well aware of the law."
She seemed like such an intelligent person, and it wasn't clear to me what had happened. "Is there any way you can go for some help? Can you go to a shelter?" I sat next to her on the sidewalk, sort of flailing, because I am the one percent and don't know what the hell I'm doing.
"The injustice, the injustice, the injustice," she kept on repeating. "Why can't I get some justice?"
I looked into her eyes, this woman who could have been me. "You're going to end up dead out here," I said, "and I am a total stranger and don't know anything, but why should let yourself you die out here, holding up a sign about injustice?"
We talked a bit more and she cried. Inside my heart I cried with her. Looking over at the corner, I saw people dressed nicely, having nice conversations.
"It's that time of the month," she said. "I can't even help myself out here on the street."
Her feet were so swollen they could not fit into her shoes, and one of the shoes was next to her feet while the other was on only partially.
Would a doctor say that she has mental illness? Based on the fact that she seemed out of touch with reality, probably. But then again, how does a person cope when they fall from the radar of society? When it's one thing after the other, and somehow, the system ejects you?
And what is "crazy," really? To many people, "crazy" seems to be a convenient term for "things I don't want to understand or deal with."
- Homeless people.
- Abused people.
- People who have suffered from the corrupt.
- Even themselves, when they have too much emotional pain.
We ought to be careful about throwing around this word.
We should reserve it for clinical diagnoses.
Too many people need serious help, or they're pointing out serious issues.
Allowing them to be called "insane" deprives us of important information. And it takes away lives that could have easily been saved.
If you have time, check out this profile of a beloved Hollywood writer, who may have committed suicide due to depression.
Also worth a look: Sheryl Sandberg's new initiative on resilience.
By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Available for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0 License. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/.