I doubt I’m alone among survivors of abuse and people who’ve experienced mental illness in having wondered whether I’d ever feel normal again.
I think the word normal is actually of limited relevance when considering ourselves and each other. After all, what is normal? Here’s one definition:
Normal (adjective) conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
We do tend to prefer normal, particularly when it comes to people. Dealing with those whose behaviour is usual, typical or as we expect – that’s our comfort zone. The unusual, the atypical, the unexpected, can be unwelcome, even alarming.
Many of us do celebrate difference and embrace diversity. At the same time, prejudice and intolerance not only exist but are rife in some situations, invariably born out of a mixture of ignorance and fear. Ignorance here not rudeness, but a lack of knowledge. The fear born out of a lack of understanding leading to a unwillingness to tolerate or accept.
Having a mental illness or other disability can see you popped straight into the box marked ‘not normal’.
Some of us really love putting others into boxes and have trouble thinking ‘outside the box’. If you yourself think that way, it can get a bit lonely!
The ability to pass as ‘normal’ can help you to be accepted or at least tolerated. I’m quite good at pulling off the appearance of a functioning human while actually finding life quite difficult. I’d never have guessed you were .. a depressive/anxious/sometimes struggle with social confidence/have been abused – is a familiar refrain. I’ve chosen not to wear a label around my neck declaring my impairments for all to see. I tend not to define myself in terms of them. I am not ‘a depressive’; I do have a history of living with the illness Depression. I do not want to live in the box marked depression, or any other box for that matter. I have a toe, a finger, a memory, a passion, in very many diverse boxes.
I’m tidy and organised. I love theatre, books, coffee shops and tea rooms, charity shops and second hand sales. I’m positive and enthusiastic. I was abused in childhood and beyond and the effects of that on me and my life have been profound and far-reaching. I lost a parent to suicide and I’ve survived an attempt to take my own life. I live with a number of health conditions – they are mostly invisible but have a not inconsiderable effect on my life. I don’t have children. I don’t have contact with my family. I have some issues with eating, I continue to work to overcome them. I like scarves and earrings. I love recycling and reusing. I adore words and writing! I like public speaking. I love arts and crafts. I’m driven and ambitious. I’m compassionate and sensitive. I can be very chatty.
All that, and more, is my normal. It may not be yours, but it is mine, and proudly so.
One day recently, I found myself feeling of normal mood. That’s what prompted me to write this post. You see I haven’t felt terribly happy about being in a ‘normal mood’.
I’d like to feel happy, hopeful and free to such an extent that I catch myself smiling often, even laughing, at the sheer joy of it. I felt like that for more than three days in a row last week! This was a new feeling for me. I sensed that, in the midst of my fifth decade, I am at last learning what is to feel free, even safe. I realised that I am finally beginning to thrive.
I wanted to always feel so bright and such delight, but my mood began to slide after an unexpected confrontation with a terribly traumatic period of my life. It came in the form of a psychiatrist’s report on my mental state in the period immediately following my disclosure of childhood abuse, found while organising paperwork.
I encouraged myself not to panic about the decline in mood and confidence I was experiencing; I’ve learned that doesn’t help and that, in fact, it’s likely to make things worse. I calmly and mindfully took care of myself and took steps to reach out for some additional support… slowly my mood and confidence levels rose. They didn’t again reach the heights, but settled somewhere around OK, I suppose. I was not thrilled about that.
After years of work to recover myself and my life, learning to love and accept myself and processing the trauma I experienced, I can now celebrate my own brand of normal – with all of the quirks and imperfections that entails. I can learn to live with normal, rather more mundane, mood states. I may even learn to celebrate those too. Sheer joy and jubilation is wonderful to experience, but who gets to feel like that all the time? It seems impossible that I could ever tire of such joy and freedom, having finally found it, but if I had it for always perhaps I would.
Embracing the mundane mood may seem dull but it is normal. Everyone has ups and downs in life and of mood. It isn’t normal to be so depressed that you feel you have to die, as I felt when so very ill for many months last year. Today I’m not depressed, neither I am a fountain of joy, but I am OK, and I’m coming to realise that that’s actually a pretty good state of being.