I’ve been seeing a therapist for the past six months. Each visit is the same, and it goes like this:
The Beginning: We make small talk for 1–3 minutes, and I pretend like I have my shit more together than the last time she saw me.
The Middle: I ramble on about 1–3 problems that have been causing chaos in my mind (and usually in my relationships) since the last time I saw her. 97% of the time, this part ends with the same question, asked by me: “Am I crazy?”
The End: She assures me I’m less crazy and more normal. I doubt her judgment, have an internal moment of madness questioning the very definitions of “crazy” and “normal”, and then write down some notes to remind myself what to work on until the next session.
And so, I go through the weeks like this. It’s an interesting process. It’s wild and mysterious and exhausting and edifying. Through it all, I keep coming back to the same question.
“AM I CRAZY?”
A definition, by Merriam-Webster:
Crazy (adjective) — full of cracks and flaws: CHECK.
I am most certainly full of cracks and flaws. Then, by Merriam-Webster’s definition, I am crazy.
But that can’t be right. I’m not a place.
I remember when I was a little girl, sometimes I would ask my parents where they were going. They’d be dressed up in fancy clothes and cowboy boots and I’d ask, “Where are you guys going?!” My mom would usually just giggle and say, “We’re going crazy.” By my mom’s definition, I’m not crazy.
Wait, hold on.
Another dictionary definition says, “Not mentally sound: marked by thought or action that lacks reason; Erratic; Unusual.” CHECK.
Not all the time, but I can relate to this sometimes.
Also, I have to admit that when I see someone on the street who is erratically talking about identity theft, and can’t seem to shake his thoughts about it — I get it. I could totally see myself becoming that obsessed by a thought. If it were me, I’d probably be walking around Orange County asking everyone I saw if they realized how clean the water is that comes out of their tap.
Tried and true dictionary and mom definitions not satisfying, I went to Google.
What about this UCLA psychology professor dude, Gerald Goodman, PhD? He says, “Believing that you are going crazy is a good clue that you are sane.”
I intentionally did not put a question mark after what, because that’s how crazy I’m feeling trying to figure out if I’m crazy or not.
Then there are those who celebrate craziness. Like Dr. Seuss, for example: “Being crazy isn’t enough.”
Ok, that’s it. This is obviously going nowhere. Maybe it’s going to Nowhere, Crazy.
What I think is that I am crazy, in my own way, just like everyone else is, in theirs. I also think it’s time to start thinking about the question behind the question. I think, after I’ve rambled to my therapist all the thoughts wildly swirling around in my head and I ask if I’m crazy, what I’m really asking is, “Am I going to be ok?”
Therapy has a way of taking your thoughts and putting them on display in ways talking with a friend can’t. I pay someone to let me be as incoherent, needy, obsessive, or angry as I need to be. I pay someone to let me be like the man who is obsessed with identity theft, when I need to.
He and I have a lot in common.
I am also experiencing obsessive thoughts around identity.
Three years ago, I was preparing to move back to the United States from South Sudan, where I lived for three years. I remember in those final months, all I wanted to do was go for a long walk in the woods.
Shortly after returning home, I got to walk in the redwoods at Big Sur for a few days. Then, I got to walk in the Michigan woods a few times, while at a counseling center. I haven’t physically gone on a month-long walk in the woods yet, but the process of transitioning over the last 2.5 years has felt something like it, I imagine.
Lately, I’ve imagined this picture of myself, walking through the “woods of transition”. As I’ve walked along, I’ve slowly been removing labels I had attached to myself over the years, to make up an identity:
International Development worker
INGO (International Non-Governmental Organization) worker
Lived in South Sudan
Lived in Africa
Lived in solidarity with people who experience war and poverty
As I’ve been peeling off the labels, every now and then one will fly back on and stick to me. Once I realize it’s there again, I peel it off and toss it to the wind. All of these things are wonderful, sure, and I’m grateful for them. But lately I’ve had this gnawing feeling that they have been stealing my truest identity, whatever that is.
The work I’m doing now is hard, but it’s good. The therapy and the questions and the peeling off of the labels: it’s uncomfortable at least and exhausting at most. But on some level, I know it’s downright good.
For some reason, even if I can’t see very far through the woods, and even if I feel crazy sometimes: I know I’m going in the right direction.
Am I going to be ok?
What is the meaning of “ok”? :)
*I’m still trying to follow Jesus. I highly recommend him.