Furiously Happy. Dangerously Sad.
"You're not crazy. STOP CALLING YOURSELF CRAZY," my mom says for the eleventy billionth time. "You're justsensitive. And ... a little ... odd."
"And fucked up enough to require an assload of meds," I add.
"That's not crazy," my mom says as she turns back to scrubbing the dishes. "You're not crazy and you need to stop saying you are. It makes you sound like a lunatic."
I laugh because this is a familiar argument. This is the same one we've had a million times before, and the same one we'll have a million times again, so I let it lie. Besides, she's technically right. I'm not technically crazy, but "crazy" is a much simpler way of labeling what I really am.
According to the many shrinks I've seen in the last two decades I am a high-functioning depressive with severe anxiety disorder, moderate clinical depression, and mild self-harm issues that stem from an impulse-control disorder. I have avoidant personality disorder (which is like social anxiety disorder on speed) and occasional depersonalization disorder (which makes me feel utterly detached from reality, but in less of a "this LSD is awesome" kind of a way and more of a "I wonder what my face is doing right now" and "It sure would be nice to feel emotions again" sort of thing). I have rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune issues. And, sprinkled in like paprika over a mentally unbalanced deviled egg, are things like mild OCD and trichotillomania-the urge to pull one's hair out-which is always nice to end on, because whenever people hear the word "mania" they automatically back off and give you more room on crowded airplanes. Probably because you're not supposed to talk about having manias when you're on a crowded airplane. This is one of the reasons why my husband, Victor, hates to fly with me. The other reason is I often fly with taxidermied creatures as anxiety service animals. Basically we don't travel a lot together because he doesn't understand awesomeness.
"You're not a maniac," my mom says in an aggravated voice. "You just like to pull your hair. You even did it when you were little. It's just soothing to you. Like ... like petting a kitten."
"I like to pull my hair out," I clarify. "It's sort of different. That's why they call it a 'mania' and not 'kitten-petting disorder.' Which would honestly suck to have because then you'd end up with a bunch of semi-bald kittens who would hate you. My God, I hope I never get overly enthusiastic kitten-fur-pulling disorder."
My mother sighs deeply, but this is exactly why I love having these conversations with her. Because she gives me perspective. It's also why she hates having these conversations with me. Because I give her details.
"You are perfectly normal," my mom says, shaking her head as if even her body won't let her get away with this sort of lie.
I laugh as I tug involuntarily at my hair. "I have never been normal and I think we both know that."
My mom pauses for a moment, trying to think up another line of defense, but it's pretty hopeless.
* * *
I've always been naturally anxious, to ridiculous degrees. My earliest school memory is of a field trip to a hospital, when a doctor pulled out some blood samples and I immediately passed out right into a wall of (thankfully empty) bedpans. According to other kids present, a teacher said, "Ignore her. She just wants attention." Then my head started bleeding and the doctor cracked open an ammonia capsule under my nose, which is a lot like being punched in the face by an invisible fist of stink.
Honestly I didn't know why I'd passed out. My baseline of anxiety remained the same but my subconscious was apparently so terrified that it had decided that the safest place for me to be was fast asleep on a floor, surrounded by bedpans. Which sort of shows why my body is an idiot, because forced narcolepsy is pretty much the worst defense ever. It's like a human version of playing possum, which is only helpful if bears are trying to eat you, because apparently if you lie down in front of bears they're all, "What a badass. I attack her and she takes a catnap? I probably shouldn't fuck with her."
This would be the start of a long and ridiculous period of my life, which shrinks label "white coat syndrome." My family referred to it as "What-the-hell-is-wrong-with-Jenny syndrome." I think my family was more accurate in their assessment because passing out when you see doctors' coats is just damn ridiculous and more than slightly embarrassing, especially later when you have to say, "Sorry that I passed out on you. Apparently I'm afraid of coats." To make things even worse, when I pass out I tend to flail about on the floor and apparently I moan gutturally. "Like a Frankenstein," according to my mom, who has witnessed this on several occasions.
Other people might battle a subconscious fear of adversity, failure, or being stoned to death, but my hidden phobia makes me faint at the sight of outerwear. I've passed out once at the optometrist's, twice at the dentist's office, and two horrifying times at the gynecologist's. The nice thing about passing out at the gynecologist's, though, is that if you're already in the stirrups you don't have far to fall-unless of course you're like me, and you flail about wildly while you're moaning and unconscious. It's pretty much the worst way to pass out with someone in your vagina. It's like having a really unattractive orgasm that you're not even awake for. I always remind my gynecologist that I might rather loudly pass out during a Pap smear and then she usually grimly informs me thatshe didn't need me to remind her at all. "Probably," my sister says, "because most people don't make as much of a theatrical show about fainting."
The really bad part about passing out at the gynecologist's is that you occasionally regain consciousness with an unexpected speculum inside your vagina, which is essentially the third-worst way to wake up. (The second-worst way to wake up is at the gynecologist's without a speculum inside of you because the gynecologist took it out when you passed out and now you have to start all over again, which is why I always tell gynecologists that if I pass out when they're in my vagina they should just take that opportunity to get everything out of the way while I'm out.
The first-worst way to wake up is to find bears eating you because your body thought its safest defense was to sleep in front of bears. That "playing possum" bullshit almost never works. Not that I know, because I'd never pass out in front of bears, because that would be ridiculous. In fact I've actually been known to run at bears to get a good picture of them. Instead, I pass out in front of coats, which-according to my brain-are the things that you really need to be concerned around.)
One time I loudly lost consciousness at my veterinarian's office when he called my name. Apparently my subconscious freaked out when I saw blood on the vet's coat and then I abruptly passed out right on my cat. (That's not a euphemism.) I woke up shirtless in the lobby with a bunch of strangers and dogs looking down at me. Evidently when I started moaning the vet called an ambulance and when the EMTs arrived they claimed they couldn't find my heartbeat so they ripped open my shirt. Personally I think they just wanted a cheap thrill. I think the dogs looking down on me agreed, as they seemed slightly embarrassed for me after watching the whole spectacle unfold. But you really can't blame the dogs because, first of all, who can look away from a train wreck like that, and secondly, dogs have no concept of modesty.
"Waking up shirtless with a bunch of concerned dogs staring at your bra because you're afraid of coats is about the seventh-worst way to wake up," I mutter aloud to my mother.
"Hmm," my mom replies noncommittally, raising a single eyebrow. "Well, okay, maybe you're not normal normal," she says grudgingly, "but who wants to be normal? You're fine. You are perfectly fine. Better than normal even, because you're so aware of what's wrong with you that you can recognize it and ... sort of ... fix it."
I nod. She has a point, although the rest of the world might disagree with our definition of "fixing it."
When I was little I "fixed it" by hiding from the world in my empty toy box whenever my undiagnosed anxiety got too unbearable. In high school I fixed it by isolating myself from other people. In college I fixed it with eating disorders, controlling what I ate to compensate for the lack of control I felt with my emotions. Now, as an adult, I control it with medication and with shrink visits and with behavioral therapy. I control it by being painfully honest about just how crazy I am. I control it by allowing myself to hide in bathrooms and under tables during important events. And sometimes I control it by letting it control me, because I have no other choice.
Sometimes I'm unable to get out of bed for a week at a time. Anxiety attacks are still an uncomfortable and terrifying part of my life. But after my furiously happy epiphany, I've learned the importance of pushing through, knowing that one day soon I'll be happy again. (If this sentence seems confusing it's probably because you skipped over the author's note at the beginning like everyone else in the world does. Go back and read it because it's important and also because you might find money in there.)
This is why I sneak into other people's bathrooms in haunted hotels and once accepted a job as a political czar who reports directly to the stray cat that sleeps at city hall. I have staged live zombie apocalypse drills in crowded ballrooms and I've landed on aircraft carriers at sea. I once crowdfunded enough money to buy a taxidermied Pegasus. I am furiously happy. It's not a cure for mental illness ... it's a weapon, designed to counter it. It's a way to take back some of the joy that's robbed from you when you're crazy.
"Aaaaah! You're not crazy," my mom says again, waving a wet plate at me. "Stop saying you're crazy. People will think you're a lunatic."
And it's true. They will. I Google the word "lunatic" on my phone and read her one of the definitions.
Lunatic: (noun) Wildly or giddily foolish.
My mom pauses, stares at me, and finally sighs in resignation, recognizing way too much of me in that definition. "Huh," she says, shrugging thoughtfully as she turns back to the sink. "So maybe 'crazy' isn't so bad after all."
Sometimes crazy is just right.
Copyright © 2015 by Jenny Lawson