I have quite a bit of experience with mental illness. My dad has never been what one could describe as “mentally stable,” and many of his brothers and sisters also show distinct signs of psychopathology. In addition to his probably clinical levels of anger, 3 was also a pathological liar. I’d say he was a bad lair, but then again, who knows how many of his lies I actually caught? All of his stories could have been fictional. Who knows?
Growing up in the shadow of such a prime example of mental illness is bound to leave an impact on a girl, let alone living through a sibling’s suicide, the epitome of unhealthy behavior. I know Dad’s persistent refusal to acknowledge reality has made me less trusting, and 3’s suicide has heightened my control-freak nature, but, this past weekend, I added another quirk to my list of family-influenced behaviors.
I see crazy people. Everywhere. I mentally diagnose others with all manner of psychopathology, praising those who seek help and judging those who seem to lack the self-awareness necessary to get better. I came to this realization while collecting data for my current research study. I’m working with families of children with intellectual disabilities to improve sibling relationships. As I visiting one such family, the mom chatted at length about the new job she was applying for describing in detail her myriad skills that aren’t being utilized at her current job. Now, I don’t know this woman very well. I’ve only met with her 4 or 5 times. She’s incredibly nice, and I love working with her kids, but I didn’t believe her. While the mom was talking about her work history, I kept thinking “You’re not as good as you think you are. You’re probably a bit narcissistic, tunnel vision, blaming others for your problems,” etc.
As I walked back to my car after completing the visit, I considered my reaction. How very unfair I was being. I have no right to silently judge this woman, to paint her with the same brush as my father and his siblings, to think her a liar like my brother. Yet, I do this kind of thing all the time. A friend discusses her husband in aggrieved terms? He must be depressed. Get him help or divorce him as soon as possible, lest your poor infant children grow up to resent him the way I resent my father. Someone tells a marginally strange story? They must be lying. I bet they lie about everything. No one can be trusted.
Of course, I am not exempt from my own mental diagnoses. If I get caught in traffic and show up late or forget to return a phone call, I assume the offended party won’t believe my excuse. They must think I’m lying. Who really gets stuck in traffic? Sophomore Year Roommate can’t possibly be OK with the fact that I rescheduled a trip to see her at the last minute. She must think me terribly self-centered and arrogant.
It’s exhausting see crazy everywhere. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t even know if I’m wrong in all my judgments, but I do know I’m not doing myself any good by making them. Some people are healthy; not everyone has to deal with the same psychopathologies that seem to permeate my existence.