by Peggy Haymes
After the fire, no one quite knew what to do with her. Madonna Badger lost her three children and both of her parents in that home fire, and it seemed like she’d lost herself as well.
She was shuffled from treatment center to treatment center, all of them trying to fight a mental illness they couldn’t quite get their hands around. Nothing got better for her.
No one knew what to do with her. Until a doctor in Arkansas spoke up.
“She’s not crazy. She’s just sad.”
Well, of course she was. She had to be unimaginably sad. We understand that the grief of a parent burying a child is beyond all expected experience. Badger buried all three of hers. Along with her parents. The generation before her and the generation her after both gone in an instant. She’s not crazy. She’s just sad.
I don’t know why all of those other doctors and nurses missed it. I’m glad someone finally noticed. For all of the brilliance to the Inside Out movie, a lot of folks (including professionals) are still functionally illiterate when it comes to emotions. I’ve had people tell me about their mental illness when they weren’t mentally ill at all. They were depressed because a relationship or a job was sucking the life out of them or because their dreams were just about done with being ignored or because they were caught up in a lifestyle that brought no life to them.
They weren’t mentally ill. They were on the verge of listening to their hearts or finding their voices, which can be sad and scary and overwhelming. It can take your feet right out from under you. It doesn’t make you mentally ill.
You’re not crazy. You’re just sad. Or confused. Or scared.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a depression that falls under the umbrella of mental illness. But sometimes we reach for the mental illness label just because we’re having a feeling. Depression has a thousand different shades, and one person who suffers from it may require high-level mental health intervention. On the other hand, someone else just may need the help and the courage to take an honest look at her life.
With the hormonal changes that can come with menopause, women can find themselves going through a supersize variety pack of feelings. Sometimes, however, the feelings aren’t just the hormones but also the call of their lives to find their own voices.
A women interviewed about menopause commented, “My family thinks I’ve done gone crazy, but I’m just finally saying what I’ve been thinking all these years.”
She’s not crazy. She’s just sad. Or scared. Or ready to speak truth she’s been scared to claim before.
It’s never too late to listen to what our lives are telling us.
Editor’s note: To learn more about the symptoms for clinical depression, click here. Please seek help if symptoms persist for longer than two weeks.
Peggy Haymes is a writer, hospital chaplain, and coach for women in midlife. Online you can find her at HeartCallings.com, which includes her blog, Midlife Callings, online courses, online retreats and coaching. Her books include Strugglers, Stragglers and Seekers: daily devotions for the rest of us. She lives in North Carolina with her two rescue dogs and a rescue cat with attitude.
Peggy – yes! I remember reading that account a few years back and the doctor saying what would have been obvious at one time. Thank you for giving a good perspective on our feelings and emotions. I connected to this and appreciate your thoughts.
Thank you, Debby. I’ve found that when we take the time to listen to our feelings they can point to unhealed wounds or grief not yet grieved. So important to take that next step.