Is That Crazy Enough For Ya?

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In the ‘60s and ‘70s, women in literature were portrayed far differently than they are today. With today’s image of women, characters like Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, Lucy Pevensie, Hermione Granger are some of our generation’s role models. They are praised for their strong will, independence, and successes. Prior to the creation of these characters, readers were often exposed to a different side of women: the crazy side.

Beware, there will be spoilers!

The first book we have is Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann. With this tale that follows the lives of three women, who are also dear friends of one another, one character truly stood out the most: Neely O’Hara. Her actions made me want to rip my hair out, shake some sense into her, and most of all throw my book across the room. She stands as one of the prime examples of how women have been mistreated in the entertainment business and how that shaped their future. Neely juggled drug addiction, alcoholism, weight gain/weight loss, along with attempted suicide on many occasions for a mere amount of attention from the media – and somehow still thrived. Her lowest point in the novel was when she had been admitted by her friend, Anne Welles, into an asylum for the insane after a suicide attempt that made her lose everything. She was deemed insane, but in reality she was just battling with severe anxiety due to her image in Hollywood being threatened by the newest, up-and-coming starlet. Instead of those around her trying to give her the appropriate resources for success, it was easier for them to put a false label on her problems and forget about them.

Another book, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, follows a woman in the 1950s during her stay at a mental hospital and tells the story of her recovery. Esther Greenwood reflects Sylvia Plath’s own journey after being diagnosed with depression. Plath’s trajectory to recapturing her mental stability takes the same dives as Esther’s, but instead of having a hopeful ending, Plath passed away by her own hand in 1963. The Bell Jar considers the treatment of women with mental illnesses, as well as having an optimistic view on recovery. For Esther, being a woman means being under constant pressures about marriage, being forced to not excel in the workforce, and her body only being a vessel for her future children. All things that many women take for granted today.

A third example is Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. The initial prognosis for the young Miss Kaysen was that she was living with depression. She was diagnosed by a psychiatrist she didn’t visit regularly or know. This lead to her admittance into McLean Hospital in 1967. Upon evaluation, the 18-year-old is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The most important aspect of Kaysen’s retelling of her life is how she describes the treatment within the hospital. She notices the difference between how the medical personnel treat the sane and the insane. She also takes the time to examine mental illness versus recovery. Having a first-hand account of what it was like to be a woman with a mental illness, really brings home the validity of the issues the previous novels highlighted. “Crazy” was a solution, an answer, rather than an illness.

The last novel on the list is The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. The ‘70s did not treat the Lisbon sisters as well as many thought. The suicides revolved around the family of seven: Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon and their five girls. All five daughters had ultimately ended their own lives, but the start of it was with the youngest sister: Cecilia. After her initial attempt to end her life, she told the doctor that he didn’t know what it was like to be a 13-year-old girl. She felt alone and her heartbreak pushed her into a depressive state, but the ignorance of her parents forced her into a deeper hole than expected. Upon questioning, no one noticed whether the girls had or had not given off warning signs. The idea of this novel is to explore how their mental illness was overlooked by all members of the community, including the Lisbon parents. Education about these illnesses and what they look like has certainly come a long way. Something that used to not be talked about at all, is now not an uncommon topic among parents, friends, or co-workers.

All in all, female characters in literature have evolved to become more independent and stronger. Although our generation has been exposed to the more sane side of women, we needed the women who had succumb to the dark side of their minds; for the readers who could relate to their troubles, for the readers who need the realistic representation of the world written in a novel. Sometimes we need to know where we come from, the trials and tribulations, to see how we’re going to change where we go.

Keep On Writing

It’s very easy to stop writing. When you have a few weeks of a hectic schedule, hit a hard writer’s block, or have lost faith that your writing will ever “succeed” it’s easy to quit. Your frustrations and outside pressures cloud your head and sometimes it just easier to give up. You are probably thinking that I am going to tell you not to do this and that you shouldn’t let a few rough days, weeks, or months keep you from completing what you have set out to do. If that’s what you are thinking… you are right! But, I don’t want you to keep writing just so your book, novel, memoir, short story, or poem gets finished. I want you to write because it’s healthy. There are many health “fads” out there right now to help you reach your optimal physical health. There’s Crossfit, obstacle course runs (warrior dashes, mud runs), Beachbody workouts (P90X, Insanity), Shakeology, and paleo diets. What about our mental health? Our brain, soul, and mind are the most important aspect of who we are. If we aren’t in a good mental state, how can we be expected to care for our physical bodies?

I came across an article today on The Huffington Post blog that highlighted three benefits to writing. Each one of them proves that the act of writing may be one of the best things we can do for our mental health. It’s really that simple and us writers have the advantage on this one.


Writing allows you to express feelings. At the end of each day, we should all really sit down and write- even if it’s just for a few minutes. There are so many thoughts and emotions that we experience each day that we never share with anyone else. These feelings can easily bottle up inside of us and possibly one day explode. If something pissed you off that day, write about it. If something made you smile, write about it. if something reminded you of a bad memory, write about it. If you finally accomplished a lifetime goal, write about it. Expressing your emotions for yourself is one of the purest forms of therapy. There’s no one there to judge you and your thoughts can be completely uncensored. Who knows, you may even ignite inspiration for your next book. That jerk who cut you off this morning may just be your next blessing.

Writing is also an easy way to commemorate your life. If you write about your challenges, successes, obstacles, and accomplishments bit by bit your legacy will be forever preserved. You may not think that you have a whole lot to offer anyone else, but the truth is that you actually do. You have a whole lot to offer. No one else out there has lived the same life you have, but there are people out there who have had similar experiences or are going through something similar at the moment. You never know who your writing will inspire or help through a rough time. Even if it’s just one of your children or grandchildren, your writing will never see a better purpose.

Writing gets your creative juices flowing. When you sit down to write, you never know where you are going to end up. Writing about a simple trip to the grocery store could lead you to Mars having dinner with an alien family. You might discover your next story idea, a new interest you never knew you had, or it just might clear your head and leave you with a blank slate to take on the next day. The more you write, the more ideas that will filter in and out of you brain- for better or worse.

Never underestimate the power of a couple words. Write on (and don’t stop).