“The World breaks everyone, and afterwards, many are stronger in the broken places.” -Ernest Hemingway
I was once challenged to come up with as many colorful and crazy words to describe mental illness (MI)that I could think of in one minute. They told me to “put my money where my mouth was” and give it a shot, which usually means kiss my money goodbye, but not this time. Little did they know they had challenged “Pete Feigal, Super Consumer.” I let loose with a torrent of designations that put hair on their chests, (and if they already had hair on their chests, it parted it down the middle!) “Mad, bedlamite, certifiable, delusional, schizo, nut, demented, eccentric, non compos mentis, insane, crazy, loony, psycho, mental, fey, psychotic, screw loose, maniac, rides the short bus, wacked, wacko, off his rocker, in La La Land, Nervous Nelly, go postal, loco, mad, nut case, cuckoo, berserk, odd, touched, don’t got all his dogs barkin’, a couple sandwiches short of a picnic, the lights are on but nobody’s home.” And I was only getting warmed up.
Granted, sometimes we’re all a little cruel to ourselves, sometimes we all “pick the scabs,” especially consumers with tough “Inner Tyrant’s,” but this was more in fun than anything else. I, of course, won the game hands down, and if you ask me, anyone even trying to come up with more “politically incorrect” images of mental illness than I must be “a couple of bricks shy of a load.”
Of all the wacky names I’ve heard through the years, my favorite has always been “cracked.” It is of great disappointment to me that I have never actually been called “cracked;” I’m still hopeful. “Cracked” was the favorite word of one of my friend’s dad. “That crazy Clinton is cracked! Those Democrats are cracked! The U.N. is cracked! I still can’t believe they let China into the U.N.! They got enough foreigners in there already!”
All of these names and tags imply that something is wrong, something is out of focus, something is broken. And many of us have felt that about ourselves with our mental illness: “Who’s going to hire me? Who’s going to date me? Who’s going to let me babysit their kids?” There’s an implied connection to MI that we are fractured in mind and spirit, less than “cracked.”
I still cringe at the insensitivity of some people, with myself at the top of that list, but I am also starting to take a fierce pride in being different, being unique, being “cracked.” Michelangelo was “cracked.” His bi-polar disorder took him to severe highs and lows and shook him to pieces. But his trips from heaven to hell gave us the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and then“ David.” Abraham Lincoln was “cracked.” He battled major depression his entire life. But his own internal war opened his heart and led to the Emancipation Proclamation, and a vision that sustained the Union. John Forbes Nash was “cracked.” Schizophrenia put him into a maze that took him 35 years to escape from. But it also led him into entirely new worlds of economic theory, to a Nobel Prize and an academy award-winning movie.
Madison Avenue ad writers talk about “thinking outside the box.” We with mental illness live outside the box; we’ve got a huge advantage! When a diamond cutter begins to work on a stone, he first looks for the cracks. He doesn’t see them as flaws but as essential hearts of the diamond; he creates the jewel around those cracks. Our wounds, pains, illness aren’t places of weakness. Often it’s from those events and traumas that our eyes and hearts are opened, making us kinder, less willing to “turn our heads and pretend that we just don’t see,” as Bob Dylan wrote.
The pain, loneliness and fear of my 30 year struggle wasn’t a gift, but the new eyes I see the world with are. The next time someone calls you “cracked,” the next time you feel broken, take comfort in remembering that it’s through the cracks that the light comes.