For the last week, I’ve felt normal.

This is a loaded word.  For some of us with mental illness, we use it on ourselves like a baseball bat.  We hold it up as an unreachable and longed for goal.  Other people slap us around with it.  Normal carries the same kind of charge that God carries for other people.  As a writer, I’ve tried to be sensitive to that charge and to find other ways of expressing this particular state, but nothing comes close.  So I guess I just have to keep using it and try to explain myself.

For me, normal is the set point, the fulcrum on the teeter-totter where no motion happens.  In this state, I’m asymptomatic.  Since I’m focusing on food right now, I’m watching how easy it is to change my eating plan.  There’s no compulsive thinking.  Last night I watched TV while I ate supper and ate too much.  There was no frantic rodent in my head scrabbling ’round and ’round to get at the food.  I simply got distracted.  When I realized what I’d done, I stopped.  When I’m in this state, I can stop.  When I calculate my calorie intake for the day, I can look at it and adjust what I’ll have for supper or for an evening snack.  This is part of being normal for me—the absence of compulsion.

This quietness has also settled into my relationship with money.  When I’m at set-point, when I’m normal, I have plenty of money.  I make adjustments to my wants and needs accordingly.  This week I chose to go to the new X-Men movie instead of driving to my meditation group.  Instead of the choice feeling like a punishment, instead of wishing I could do both, I felt no emotion at all about it.  It was simply a choice.  When the compulsion goes to sleep, I can be practical.  I actually put $17 into my piggy bank this week.

I feel normalcy in the way I’m working on projects.  While I was manic, and then depressed, I could only tinker with the periphery of my story-writing.  I obsessed over the genealogy charts, organized my notes, and made lists.  But, yesterday I felt the last trailing, symptomatic shreds drift away.  I wrote part of a new chapter.  And in the collage I’m doing now, I noticed the same quiet sureness.  When I’m in this normal place, I don’t feel constricted or boundless.  There’s no trace of the self-loathing, self-defeating thought forms that depression creates, or the jittery, tumbling flood of ideas produced by mania.  When I’m normal, I can see the path through the project and can move with conviction along the path with a strong, steady stride.

Other people tell me that when I feel normal, I behave and look like the person they knew before the illness took over.  I’m sure that means something different to each of them, but I can imagine what some of those traits look like.  When I feel normal, I’m not hypersensitive to sound or smells, so I can sit at a noisy dinner table and join in instead of escaping to another room.  I can exercise in the pool room with music blaring and sing along.  When I feel normal, the world opens up and is not all about me.  So when my mom tells strangers at a garage sale that I live on disability and have no money, I can chuckle at her method of bargaining instead of taking offense.  And I’m able to see and listen to other people without the veil of symptoms floating between us.

Coming back to this set-point is always a gift.  Not everyone gets this reprieve from symptoms, and I’m so very grateful for it.  I will enjoy it, use it, and then let it go as the tide of my illness turns.  Because that, too, is normal.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathryn McCullough
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 09:27:10

    Ah, the much-craved, abnormally normal! Way to go, my friend!


  2. gypsy116
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 15:21:30

    I am happy for you 🙂 I can honestly say Ive never felt “normal”.


    • Sandy Sue
      Jun 05, 2011 @ 20:50:31

      I’m sorry. I know some people never get a break. Do you ever experience a lull in symptoms? A time when the illness eases up a bit? Your normal may look very different from mine or anyone else’s.


      • gypsy116
        Jun 05, 2011 @ 22:27:52

        The way you described “normal” is what I would define it as, even though Ive never experienced it. My symptoms change drastically and some arent as bad as others but even when Im feeling my personal best there is still underlying depression, emptiness, and of course my ever present anxiety.

        I truly am glad to hear that you are doing so well right now, your such an interesting and unique person 🙂

  3. Sherry
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 19:29:42

    I love how you explained this thing of being normal. You see, try as I might I often have had a hard time understanding just what you are going through in this illness. In the back of my mind I would think things like: why is she so sensitive to noise, or I wonder why she feels things so strongly, or why do the things people say bother her so? I would read books and read books on being bi-polar and what that looks like, but I still never got it. I was using my own experiences to try to understand yours and that just doesn’t work. I THINK I’m getting a better understanding of you as I read your blog and hope that I can be helpful on this journey you’re on.


    • Sandy Sue
      Jun 05, 2011 @ 20:48:20

      I appreciate how hard you try. And I know it’s frustrating for you. Believe me, you are an incredible source of support—even if you don’t know what you’re doing!


  4. ManicMuses
    Jun 05, 2011 @ 19:48:21

    So eloquently put, Sandy Sue. I am going to show your post to my husband and son just to give them another slant on what its like to crave normalcy and appreciate it when you have it. May your normal phase outlast any of those of mania and/or depression. Hurrah!


  5. Leslie
    Jul 25, 2015 @ 09:28:44

    I love this Sandy Sue! Very nicely explained.


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