By LKB Boe
I coined a word today—crazophobia. Crazophobia is the fear of contracting a mental illness by being in close proximity to or touching a mentally ill person, or by hearing scary stories about the mentally ill. The common cure is to ridicule, ostracize, or otherwise demean the mentally ill person in order to make the crazophobic person feel safe and therefore, immune.
Before I say I’m mentally ill, it’s important to note that I’m privileged and grateful for it. I’m loved and supported, but I still struggle. My doctor treats my symptoms with medication. But, crazophobics think I can exercise, pray, or wish away my disease. Anyone can be mentally ill. You can’t be too pretty or too rich to catch it. Mental illness is indiscriminate.
Yet, I have my own crazophobia. I caught myself making fun of a neighbor with dementia. He got angry every time someone parked on the street in front of his house. I made fun of him. Me. People have been making fun of me for years—calling me psycho and crazy bitch. Mainly, due to my intensity and wildly differing personality from one day to the next, before medication. As someone who has felt the effects of crazophobia, you’d think I wouldn’t stoop to making fun of a neighbor with dementia.
You’d think I’d know better. I do know better. But it’s a little funny, not that he has to go through that, but that he thinks a public sidewalk belongs to him, that he thinks he can bully a large Tongan firefighter into moving his car, and when he can’t—this 5-foot-2-inch-tall, 135-pound, 80-year-old man gets a rifle. It’s ludicrous. The police don’t lock him up though. They take away his rifle, and his stories become neighborhood lore, laughed about until we all move away or die or forget. That’s what crazophobia looks like.
I know I’m off the beam when people step away from me when I’m talking. I’m too intense. It’s hard to tell whether I’m yelling or talking. Everything is urgent—must be heard, must be done, “Now! Now! Now!” It’s hardest on the people who can’t take a step back–my husband and daughter. I rarely argue with my husband, but during a medicine change, I’m prone to misinterpret social cues. Sometimes I yell at him and end up crying, “What’s wrong with me? Why do I have to be like this?” I’m crazophobic against myself.
Before it gets bad, people think I’m hysterical. Normally, I don’t say exactly what I think, but during an episode, I say what I think, no filter, usually totally inappropriate, sometimes deeply personal things that I would never want to share. So that when the episode is over, I feel naked and ashamed. I was at the ER getting x-rays once when the attendant asked me if I was pregnant. I said, “No, and not because I’m a loser either.” He stopped the wheelchair and bent over laughing. My answer was so unexpected. It’s not long after this phase that things can go bad quickly.
When it all goes to Hell, I hear voices. I hear a 1950’s radio newscaster announcing the news on the other side of my bedroom. I can’t understand what he says, but I hear him. I hear a Cinderella ball next to me—music, tinkling glasses, laughter. I can’t hear the words to the music or what the people are laughing about. It’s like I’m in the next room or downstairs. I hear heavy machinery driving through the bedroom at 4 a.m. Yeah, it’s like that. I’m that kinda crazy. When I start ranting about random events that don’t matter, I see the crazophobia in your eyes. But I go to work, get married, make friends, have children, and soldier on.
Crazophobia is not a word. It should be. People belittle and vilify us because they don’t understand. We’re defective and troublesome, but most of all, scary. It’s easy for crazophobics to dismiss the homeless man screaming obscenities on the street. The only difference between him and me is money for health care, a Stanford-educated psychiatrist, and medicine. That’s it. If I stop taking my medicine and seeing the doctor, Bam! I’m sitting next to the homeless man in a jail cell or in the local mental hospital’s day room. That’s why you’re scared. That’s why I’m scared. We’re crazophobic.