We are all crazy. Every last one of us. I even want to be so bold as to say the degree doesn’t even vary, but the crazy always differs; every single person to date has their own very special brand of crazy. What’s more, we all have our own very special thresholds for the crazy we are willing to tolerate from another person. That unique tolerance draws a line between those we keep close and the people we wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. It’s surprising how willing we are to look at the person who broke our thresholds and call them nuts without considering our own problems. We point them out to say, at least I’m not bats like so-and-so”, trying to steer a vision of our own issues into the dark by social comparison.

That is to say a mental diagnosis, no matter the kind, is not what can make you a harmful brand of crazy.

Did you know there are people who have bipolar disorder that go half their lives without knowing it? Not because they failed to recognize their symptoms but because their symptoms never had the opportunity to flair. That grizzly bear of a disorder, for the most part, was treated kindly and with enough discipline that it didn’t feel the need to lash out in defense of fear.

This I postulate, believe it or not, has little to do with that individual and everything to do with who they had the fortune of being surrounded by from their birth. Every parent, every teacher and mentor, every friend or lover just happened to not cross their threshold in the way that drives the person into a massive emotional mood swing. In a sense, it was a group effort; their luck is astounding. Not only were they exposed to healthy coping continually but there were few harsh extenuating circumstances to launch the bipolar canon.

Maybe.

Or, more feasibly, the kind of crazy they spent a whole childhood cultivating just happened to suit the brands of crazy they came to navigate as an adult. Which I also find astoundingly lucky.

If you take this concept and extend it to every adult you’ve ever met, the same applies with or without a mood disorder. Have you ever noticed people who seem so put together, but you wonder how that could be considering you can’t stand their craziness? It’s probably because they have chosen their own brands of crazy to surround themselves with that complement their own. Or they have spent a long time learning how to keep people just far enough away that their harmful craziness was never confronted effectively.

No one survives crazy, and the only proof you could ever need is the fact that you have never met anyone who hadn’t had some adversary in their lifetime.

Really. Think about it. Everyone has had at LEAST one person who has absolutely hated their guts and thought them mad. How many murder mystery shows revolve around the most unsuspecting, kind and loving person who kept everyone blind to some awe inspiring evil they had been sitting on?

Yet we all still have the audacity to indulge the idea that someone else is crazier.

We even have our very own definitions of crazy with unique nuances and stipulations, usually created by the people who inevitably crossed our threshold whose craziness, before that point, was excusable.

And who am I? Guilty as charged.

I have a ridiculously hard time making friends with people who haven’t had some mental ailment, people who have never felt emotionally displaced enough to seek the help of a counselor. I am the first person to point my finger at someone who can’t simply admit they have emotional encumbrances that they could work to improve. So, in total, all the people who have called me crazy for seeking help. I find them to be much worse off and much more toxic than myself. I can’t help it. There is a little voice inside of me screaming, “They have no fucking clue they’re crazy!” How am I supposed ignore that? You may call it indignation, I call it intolerance of willful ignorance. The harder anyone points at someone for how crazy they are, or the more normal someone claims to be, the more I question their own self-awareness.

So what, then, is sanity? How can we make our craziness sane, so to speak? I say that sanity is clarity. Sanity is having the guts to look at your own crazy and say, “Yep, there it is in all its shining glory!” and make active efforts to prevent it from assaulting others. Sanity is the dance, the balance between benign craziness and harmful craziness.

Admitting to our craziness keeps a potentially poisonous, intolerable crazy from presenting a hazard to everyone around us, and ourselves.

But, ultimately, our sanity builds on the sanity of the company we keep, those that we choose to dance with in life.

I try to keep company with people that are aware that they are crazy, because I don’t have qualms with admitting that I am, too. But more importantly than self-awareness, I look for the person that cares how their crazy effects the people around them, and persistently ventures to build a healthier way of being.

It’s never easy. There seem to be so few people that are willing to be that way, so few willing to see the truth about themselves. Many people aren’t hip to my brand of crazy, and don’t quite appreciate my honesty. I can’t count on my fingers, anymore, the number of times I have told someone I thought I loved that they were hurting me and they told me it was simply my fault for being hurt. There was always something wrong with me, something crazy they pointed their finger at to avoid confronting whatever crazy thing was inside of them that was making a problem.

What could I do? I walked away. I refuse to be in a relationship, be it romantic or companionate, where I am the only one doing the work.

But sometimes, there are the obligatory relationships. More specifically family relationships. These are the people that didn’t just put the blame on me for, say, not knowing what I needed as a child (what-the-fuck kids don’t know anything about what they need, much less how to get it!) but also the people who were more willing to let their own dysfunction remain negligible in light of my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I couldn’t just walk out of this kind of a relationship. In essence, I needed it to survive.

That astoundingly lucky person I mentioned before—I envy them in moments of fatigue. There have been half a dozen psychologists that have labeled me as incredibly resilient considering the strife that kind of toxic childhood could put on any kid, not to mention a kid with bipolar disorder. I guess they mean that, clinically speaking, I should be more pathologically messed up than I am. This is supposed to be my silver lining on this mess. They can call it whatever they please, I just keep a ridiculously guarded heart.

I have to in a world where people are so eager to place the blame of dysfunction on my disorder, shirking their responsibility to repair the other half of the relationship. Even in the case where my friend or lover dismissed my disorder, and put the blame of the dysfunction solely on me regardless, I refuse to subject myself to any kind of relationship where I am the only one doing the work. I refuse to be the one person in the relationship that can willingly acknowledge the truth about myself. I promise myself that I will work twice as hard to build a life where I won’t have to rely on those guilty of letting their crazy become toxic to me. I put the resentment from not having an easy existence handed to me into a corner where it can’t meddle in what needs to be done, because nothing gets fixed when it’s allowed to cry at me with its tales of woe. Even when it hurts unbearably, even when I don’t think I have the strength or the courage to keep moving I will keep the crazies most dear to me nearest, those most hazardous as far at bay as possible, and drive on.

I am sad yet relieved to say that it has gotten easier as time goes. Learning how to spot red flags, and learning how to stand up for yourself become invaluable skills. Though I am hardened, and each new relationship presents new challenges and difficulties, at least I know that I am here for myself to defend what has become so precious to me: sanity.

Genevieve Armstrong is a Dallas artists, illustrator and writer. You can visit her at www.gennarmstrong.com

Photo: Cosmic Nuggets

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