How Do I Know If I’m Crazy?
Have you ever wondered if you might be crazy?
Our minds and emotions are complicated and there are many experiences that can feel overwhelming or confusing. Unless you have studied psychology it can be difficult to know what is normal and whether your experience is something to be concerned about.
I have talked to many people who worry for a variety of reasons that they are not normal or that there is something wrong with them.
The goal of this post is to help you put your internal experiences into perspective, and get some clarity about what they mean.
When I was younger I worried about being crazy a lot.
My mind was always really active and would jump all over the place. I was also very sensitive to people. I picked up on their moods and energy like an antennae. I often felt overwhelmed by the feeling of being around people and had scary images come up a lot. I sometimes worried that my mind was fragmented and that I might be losing it.
I was scared that I might not be normal.
The reality of the situation was that I had a lot going on in my inner world. I tended to retreat into myself a lot… which had the effect of turning up the volume on my thoughts.
I would later learn that I also had trauma symptoms. I often felt spacey and frozen. Sometimes I would get afraid or overwhelmed for no (apparent) reason.
Before I began therapy, I worried that a therapist would determine that there was something wrong with me—that I would be exposed in some way or misunderstood. I was really afraid that I would be pathologized or labelled as crazy and that would affect my life negatively.
When I finally got up the courage to see a therapist, that’s not what happened at all. Actually, I learned that much of what I was experiencing was common. It was so helpful to hear an expert in mental health explain that my troubles were not unusual.
So many people have inner experiences that feel crazy. This is often the case when you don’t understand what is happening. When you start to understand why you experience what you do, it usually seems less crazy.
What does crazy mean to you?
If you are afraid you might be crazy, that word probably means something to you. Does it mean you aren’t able to function? That you’re overly emotional? That people can’t relate to you? Does it mean that your thoughts are racing or that your mind jumps all over the place?
Are you afraid there is something broken about you?
In my case, I was not only afraid I might be crazy, but that people would misunderstand me and label me as crazy. When I had the experience of someone seeing me from a bigger perspective than I could see myself and using that power in a trustworthy and loving way, it was very healing for me.
I really wanted not to be crazy, but some people actually like the idea of being crazy. In some cases it might seem easier to just be crazy than to do all of the hard work necessary to grow and heal. In other words, thinking of yourself as crazy might actually be your comfort zone.
You have a unique way of perceiving and reacting to the word and to the concept of crazy. Take some time to check this out.
What does crazy mean to therapists?
Now let’s be clear here.
In the world of mental health treatment and therapy, the word “crazy” is never used. It doesn’t have any real meaning. However, many people struggle with difficult and debilitating mental illness. Even when people experience mental illnesses, it doesn’t mean they are crazy. There are underlying causes for mental illness, and most are treatable.
As a therapist some of the things I consider when determining if someone has a mental illness are
- Intensity of distress. Everyone has anxiety and depression sometimes. Nearly every mental illness is a severe form of something that everyone experiences. There is a big difference between mild anxiety and severe anxiety. There is a difference between being uncomfortable in social situations and never wanting to leave the house because you are so afraid to be around other people. Severe and prolonged distress tends to indicate mental illness.
- Difficulty functioning. When your trouble (i.e. thoughts, emotions and behaviors) gets to the point where it is in the way of living your life, this indicates that you may be experiencing mental illness and be in need of some help. Do you have difficulty functioning or fulfilling your daily responsibilities as a result of your mind and emotions? If you answered yes, then it is probably a good idea to get some support!
- Suicidal thoughts or crisis? If you are feeling like you are in a crisis, you are clearly in a lot of pain. Please get some help right away if this is the case.
- Trauma. Symptoms of trauma can be very overwhelming and make you feel “crazy.” Some examples of trauma symptoms are fear and anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and feeling spacy or confused. Trauma is very treatable and these kind of symptoms often get much better with therapy.
- Psychosis. What many people consider “crazy” is what we call psychosis. People who experience psychosis tend to have delusions or hallucinations. They may hear voices telling them to do things they don’t want to do. This is quite a different experience than the trauma symptoms listed above. People experiencing psychosis often have difficulty telling the difference between what is happening inside of them and what is happening outside of them.
Knowing whether you have a mental illness or not is actually not what’s really important. What is most important is understanding what is causing you distress and learning how to feel better. This is what seeing a therapist is about. A diagnosis can be useful if it helps you understand what’s going on, but it is a means to an end.
Your Unique Kind of Crazy
The truth is most people have thoughts that they are crazy at some point in their lives. We are extremely complicated beings, and we have a ton of stuff going on inside our heads!
Our world moves quickly.
On top of that, our minds can jump around all over the place. This actually happens to everyone. It is the nature of the mind.
We have lots of emotions coming at us and if we haven’t learned skills to calm ourselves down, this can get overwhelming. We also have ideas that we learned from our families and cultures that tell us how we should be and when we don’t match that exactly we can feel like we are doing it wrong or that we are crazy!
You can have a racing mind, a ton of emotion and be very confused and still be quite normal! On the other hand, how we experience this different for each of us.
Even if it is relatively normal to be neurotic, it isn’t much fun. It is totally possible to learn how to deal with intense emotions, slow your mind down and heal relational patterns from our childhoods.
What is Normal?
You may have a different way of relating to the concept of normal depending on your background, cultural values, and family patterns. Some people rebel against being normal—many of us do this at some point in our lives, usually as teens or young adults. Other people work really hard to be as normal as possible.
Trying to be normal can actually be a trap.
We all have many qualities in common.
At the same time, each of us is unique. You have your own life experiences, and your own struggles. Your anxiety and your traumas are unique to you. You may feel that because you have flashbacks, or panic attacks, or OCD that you are not normal.
But the way out of these things is not to try to be more normal. It’s to do the work that those difficulties require. You have to use your unique experience and figure out the solution that works best for you.
If you think about it, craziness breaks down conventional ways of thinking and allows us to think outside the box. Many great thinkers, artists and philosophers throughout history were labelled crazy because they thought differently than most people do. And in hindsight, we view these people as geniuses.
We all have some part of us that is crazy. If we try to hide it or push it away, it causes more problems.
But if you learn to become friends with it, you will learn what it is here to teach you something and use it as a growth opportunity.