Gossip Can Drive Some People Crazy


“I don’t like other women.  They gossip.  I hate gossip.  I think they should all go pound sand.” No, it is not a patient who said this. It was my (Great-) aunt Etta, who wore her hair like “Bride of Frankenstein.” She had been militant about her disdain for “gossip,” and certainly wore a bitter expression on her face most of the time.  But she would not tell the little girl I was then any more of her story.

I just thought of it when I heard some people having a fight outside my window.  A woman was trying to convince some man his girlfriend was cheating on him, and that she would be a better choice.  She did not succeed, at least not in the episode of the altercation that I overheard. The problem is the lack of legal-system-quality evidence. There isn’t any, ever. People try to keep secrets.  People want to know about each other’s lives.  It is a very basic human trait.  We want to know each other.  And then, if there is a hole in the knowledge, we fill it up, to make a better and more perfect story.  We love stories.  Like the wonderful Greek myths of gods and goddesses.  They were “made up” in order to explain natural phenomena that do not have an explanation.

The spaces in the interpersonal knowledge of our friends is usually filled with paranoia. The woman fighting outside the window seemed concerned about her “friend.”  If his girlfriend was cheating on him, he was stupid and a dupe in other ways.  The yelling stopped happily when both the yellor and the yellee were (apparently) exhausted enough to go to sleep. I learned years later that Aunt Etta hated the gossip of the secret she was trying to keep.

Her brother’s wife, my grandmother, was in an “insane asylum,'” a Mishigin haus” (“Crazy house in Yiddish), but to me, simply a state hospital.  From the description of what she was like, she was probably Manic-Depressive, and only a few years later, she would have probably been an outpatient on lithium. People in town had offered several creative explanations of why she disappeared.  They said she may have been, colorful woman that she apparently was, a closet criminal or adulterer and had landed in prison. The hatred of gossip seemed to come from the secrecy of trying to cover up that she was a psychiatric patient. Someone like those I serve every day of my life.

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