Listen Before You Label

Accompaniment: bit.ly/ldsdrsher
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Reach both hands out in front of you, palms facing up. If you’ve ever been called “crazy” make a fist with one hand. If you’ve called someone “crazy” make a fist with the other hand. Those are two less hands you have to hold another’s, to push yourself off the ground when you’ve fallen, and worst of all, two more hands to beat yourself up and destroy relationships of any kind.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary there are three distinct definitions of “crazy.”

  1. full of cracks or flaws: unsound/crooked, askew
  2. mad insane, impractical: erratic, being out of the ordinary: unusual
  3. distracted with desire or excitement; absurdly fond: infatuated; passionately preoccupied: obsessed.

Why have you ever called someone crazy? Certainly not to be helpful, not to show concern or interest in his or her situation. It was probably to shut down a situation, to assert your own logic or “sanity,” or to just feel right. But what does it do to the recipient of that insult? It’s a verbal slap in the face. Crazy translates to, “I don’t care how much pain you’re in, it’s disrupting my life and I can’t listen anymore.”

How do I know this? Because I’ve been on both sides. In my exhaustion, and my inability to help a loved one, I lashed out. It’s much easier to call someone “crazy” and exit the situation than to accept another person’s pain, especially your contribution to it. And, unfortunately, I’ve also felt someone weakening his or her support of my emotional well-being by using the same word to describe me.

If you break down the emotional timeline that could lead to the social labeling of someone as “crazy,” you’ll find how logical it is. A traumatic event, such as a break up, death in the family, or a simple rejection, illness, career instability, the list goes on and on. Yes, pain often finds rot in internal distress, but more often than not there’s an external factor dragging your friend down.

You know what’s the worst “condolence” to receive when suffering from any sort of pain? “There are other people in this world suffering far more than you,” that “You have no right to complain or feel bad because someone’s life is worse than yours.”

Is that what God meant for us? To bottle up our pain, keep it so close that we absorb it, until the pain becomes us? I just don’t think that’s the case. Honestly, that sounds crazy to me.

So we instead expend more energy trying to hide our pain than to heal it. We’ll seek outside counsel, a licensed therapist or even an acquaintance who doesn’t know your friends or family. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if it’s someone your health insurance covers or not, just that you won’t have to see them outside that space.

But how lovely would it be to find solace internally? This internal support shouldn’t just come from within yourself, but within your inner circle – the people you spend your life with, the ones to whom you say “I love you” at the end of a phone call.

I’m not arguing clinical psychology or visits to a licensed therapist are unnecessary, but rather that they should work in tandem with the support of your inner circle. Of course this is one of those “in a perfect world” scenarios, the existence of an environment in which we feel comfortable enough to speak without fearing the sting of our words slingshotted back at us. How quickly could sadness be addressed because our external support was bolstered? The answer is much more so than if it were to be ignored.

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You know the signs of a friend in distress, but you may choose to ignore them in the hopes it’s just a passing wave. You fear indulging them will prolong the situation. But what you don’t know is how easily a stressful situation can dissolve when your friend feels the presence of genuine care and support.

So circling back to my hopes to eliminate “crazy” from people’s reactionary vocabulary – you cannot claim to love/care/support any friend or loved one and justify calling them “crazy.” Because using that description simply sends the message of your disinterest in his or her emotional well-being, because you don’t have the time or energy to understand a change in behavior, a sunken mood, etc. Recall “crazy” is etymologically akin to “erratic” or “unusual.” Pain distorts a person’s emotional appearance, as happiness isn’t as easily exhibited.

Unhappiness is a scary concept for many people. It makes them uncomfortable, igniting a twinge of guilt and confusion. Sure, we can’t always empathize with our friends’ emotions, but that doesn’t mean we should invalidate them. It’s hard to accept the existence of something when we can’t understand its origins. So that’s when “crazy” comes into play. When you can’t pinpoint the source of a friend’s erratic change in behavior or fixation on a particular memory or emotion, you tie the situation closed with the “crazy” ribbon. You do your best to wrap it up like a package, to disguise all that lies within that you can’t understand, while your friend deals with the fallout of boxing up his or her pain for your convenience.

But remember we are not our pain, sadness, disappointment, anxiety – those are just leaves on the tree of our life – destined to fall and regrow brighter than before. Don’t judge your friends at their weakest. Don’t dismiss their pain as craziness. Remember, the moment you feel like using that adjective, life probably feels overwhelmingly crazy at that moment.

The most emotionally mature reaction you could have is to recognize the truth of the situation. So go ahead and call the fickle weather “crazy,” call your busy schedule “crazy,” but please think twice before you call a person “crazy.” Let he who has never felt pain, sadness, or confusion cast the first stone.

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