Like many friends I have yet to meet, I struggle with mental illness. There are a variety of ways to find comfort and connection within this giant community of symptoms and diagnoses, but the #1 resource I tend to turn to is personal writing, most notably zines. If you aren’t aware, zines are self-published booklets usually created by a single person (though often collaboratively compiled by multiple writers and artists). They can focus on literally anything the authors see fit to create about.
Some time ago, I was reading a zine where the author mentioned their struggle with owning the word Crazy. Those who have ever shown symptoms of their mental illness in public, or around others who don’t understand, know how hurtful and confusing Crazy can be. While reading, it occurred to me that I never had an issue with Crazy, even though it’s one of my names. I accepted Crazy easily and early. Instead, I had to own Weird.
I never had a problem with being weird, only with the idea of what’s acceptable and why certain behaviors aren’t. It pushes people into corners and not everyone is strong enough to handle that kind of treatment. It bothered me that certain groups or individuals were singled out for displaying culturally unusual thought patterns or living outside of the socially accepted paths to a “normal life.” We don’t all want marriage, kids, big houses, or money. Some want a combination of normal and weird elements. Either decision seems to make a person weird.
At some point in my younger adult world I knew I was one of those weirdos and the path to surviving in a world that doesn’t support my strange ways was to accept that I was the weird one. Accepting Weird was the first step to changing the way the world works in small ways. Accepting who you are and knowing where you stand help immensely in figuring out the direction in which to grow.
As I collect more personal stories, I begin to understand that Weird is more related to Crazy than I had originally thought. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a personality disorder is “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture.” The more I learn about my particular brand of mental illness, the more I understand how it fits in this world that wasn’t built to support it.
I am Crazy, just like I thought, but now I’m seeing it a different way. Before, I thought I was Crazy because I believed them: I believed I was wrong. I was the mad hatter. Now, as I learn more about what constitutes Crazy and the historical and cultural expression of emotion, views of personality disorders, indication of diagnoses, and so on, I am learning to own Crazy the way that the author of that zine described, and the way that I had to learn to own Weird 10 years ago. I may have gone on this crazy search eventually in my life, but reading those words inspired it.
I don’t expect that stigma against mental illness will disappear in my lifetime, but I do believe the power of the written word will carry through generations. I am sharing my story via zines as I know others are, and we are breaking down walls and opening minds to the actual, individual experience. A list of symptoms ignites fear, as your culture likely associates them with negative traits; a written account of experience and raw emotion will tell you how it feels to live with that disorder.