Do you consider yourself normal?
I have been thinking about questions that don’t have answers. Recently, I made a new friend via Bumble BFF, an app for making friends in your area. We’ve hung out several times, and even taken a day trip to Salt Springs. We talk about normal girl things: relationships, our jobs, our other friends, etc. She knows that I am mentally ill because I’ve casually mentioned things like, “I can’t wake up super early because I take medication that makes me very sleepy,” and “I’m in therapy,” but it’s not a big deal in our friendship. When I told my mom about this friend and how much I enjoy spending time with her, I said, “I felt like a regular person!” to which my mom replied, “You are a regular person.”
I basically grew up in therapy. When it was discovered that I was harming myself physically because I was depressed, my parents decided I needed professional help–and I did. I was thirteen at this point, and I have consistently been in therapy ever since. Therapy is great, and I think pretty much everyone could benefit from it, but there has to come a point in which the patient “graduates,” or at least steps down from weekly therapy sessions to less frequent visits.
So much of my life has revolved around my various diagnoses, that sometimes I forget that I am more than a diagnosis or a list of symptoms. Sometimes I wonder, what if when I had gone to the Mayo Clinic, they’d told me, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re a regular, bright, twenty-four-year-old woman who sometimes experiences emotions more strongly than you’d like to, and you’ve got some coping skills that aren’t ideal, but you’re just a normal person.” How would that have changed my perception of myself and the way I move through my life?
Obviously, this did not happen. They, instead told me that my personality, the essence of what makes me who I am, is disordered. That’s a hard pill to swallow. But what if they had told me I’m not sick? Would I be more confident? More organized? More on top of my game? Sometimes, I wonder how much of my struggles are really mental illness based, and how much of them are caused by my inability to get out of my own way.
I often forget that I am a human first, and a psychiatric patient second. When I skip breakfast, I attribute it to the remnants of my eating disorder, but plenty of people who don’t have food issues skip breakfast. When I’m having an off day, I tell myself, “I’m so depressed,” but everyone has bad days, off days, or days in which they don’t feel like themselves. When I’m intimidated by other people, particularly my bosses at work or a professor whose class I enjoy, I chalk it up to social anxiety, but I would wager that nearly everyone feels nervousness or insecurity when they want to be liked, affirmed, and accepted.
Because I have spent most of my life not, “working on myself,” but trying to “recover from mental illness,” I have lost sight of what is normal and what is not. Although it was never explicitly said, I sort of assumed that there would be a day when I became a normal person (whatever that means!) that I would be 100% enamored with every aspect of myself, that I would never feel anxiety or depression, that practicing self-care would be second nature, that I would never say an unkind word to myself, that I would handle anything and everything life threw at me with clarity and grace.
Surprise! That is not even close to normal! Everyone, mentally ill or otherwise, has moments when they feel uncomfortable with themselves, when they get angry and say things they don’t mean, when they make a choice they may regret later. This is what makes us human: we are fallible. If I was happy all the time, that would be weird, and I would be missing out on the full scope of human emotion. I’m not saying that the darkness makes us appreciate the light, as I’m not a fan of being told to feel appreciative or grateful for the things I wish had never happened. (You don’t need to eat brussels sprouts to appreciate ice cream.) But what I am realizing is that not everything that I create or do is a direct result of mental illness.
Normal is flawed. Normal is eccentric and variable. Normal is sometimes self-confident, sometimes discouraged. Normal is a work in progress. Normal is an evolution. Normal is just the first draft.