Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘normal’

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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Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts

At the moment I’m like an aeroplane tossed around in turbulence; dropping like a stone one moment and bouncing back up again the next. Never knowing when the next air pocket will take me by surprise. I just want a nice smooth journey where I can get up and stroll around and maybe have a drink from the trolley. Maybe even pilot my own aircraft for a while instead of having to rely on autopilot medication to give me a smoother journey.

I took the first step towards this today when had my psychiatric assessment. It was much easier than I had anticipated – I think I had built it up in my head as a big scary confrontation with a besuited bloke sitting in judgement behind a large desk. In fact the guy wore jeans and a shirt and was very affable and friendly.

He was very thorough and at the end of the assessment he told me that in his opinion I have generalised anxiety disorder. He’s pretty sure I don’t have bipolar 2 as my GP suggested but wants me to keep a mood diary for the next few weeks to check for possible cyclothymia. He’s going to refer me for CBT (hopefully the proper face-to-face one this time instead of the crappy computer one) and suggest to my GP that she increases the dosage of my anti-depressants.

We spent quite a long time discussing my mood cycles and their effects and at some point it dawned on me that I have no idea what it’s like to feel normal. I don’t know whether my upswings are what a regular person would call normal, or whether they take me higher than that. Fortunately the mood diary has a detailed scale in it so I just have to find the appropriate box to tick.

It did make me wonder though. I keep saying that I want to be normal, that I want to function normally. But somewhere along this road I lost sight of what ‘normal’ feels like. I have had depression off and on for nearly 20 years; I have self-harmed for about 25. Would I be happy being normal? Would I even recognise it? What is normal anyway? When it comes to mental health does ‘normal’ even exist?

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