Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Relative normality

I’ve had mental health problems all my life. As a child I self-harmed and binged; I’ve had depression since my early teens. My current diagnoses are cyclothymia with underlying depression,and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder. Where most people’s mood averages out as a straight line with occasional fluctuations up or down, this is what my unmedicated moods look like:

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The psychiatrist who diagnosed me explained that cyclothymia usually requires treatment with mood stabilisers as the hypomania (the highs) can be pretty disruptive. But because I have the peculiar combination of cyclothymia and depression, my base line is lower than most people’s. For example, at the moment I am a bit hypomanic. But instead of displaying the usual symptoms of hypomania I am what most people would consider to be normal. I’m enjoying playing with my children. I’m getting the housework done, I’m singing along to the radio and I’m able to talk to other parents in the school playground. I still find it hard to sit still without fiddling and my thoughts race. But for the most part I am “normal”.

Of course unfortunately this means that my low moods are lower than the average. When I’m in a trough I struggle to get out of bed, I struggle to interact with anyone and playing with the children is an almost unbearable ordeal. But this is also a kind of normal for me; this is what I’m like when I’m unmedicated and the depression strikes.

So which is the real normal? My unmedicated, depressed pit of despair? My hypomanic and twitchy productivity? Or the same normal that most people meet so effortlessly, with minor ups and downs but generally trundling along the same level path? I don’t know. To he honest, these days even I don’t know what’s normal for me.
But I don’t think it really matters all that much. What we perceive as normality is just the top of the bell curve, the result of statistical homogeneity. For something (or someone) to be considered normal they just have to be in the majority, no matter how slight the margin may be. No two people are exactly alike – and that’s normal.

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