Skip to content

Normal

Posted in Uncategorized

Warning: This is a post about my experience of mental illness. There will be references to self-harm and suicide. This is my experience, and should not be taken as a comment on or explanation of anyone else’s.

With every high comes a low.

For a few precious days, I felt almost normal. It came to me in flashes: realizing that I’d made a phone call. Finding myself in public. Keeping promises I’d made and making new ones. Yes, I’ll be there. I’d love to come. There was even an instant, riding in the passenger seat of the car, my forehead leaned against the window, that I saw the headlights of cars on a perpendicular road and thought, where are they going?

I never have thoughts like that anymore. I don’t wonder. Productive wonder is a kind of optimism that my brain chemistry has killed. On a bad day, I would wonder if those cars were racing to the hospital, driving home from a breakup, speeding toward the life-changing moment of finding a loved one hanging in the garage. But in those precious few seconds, I remembered what it was like when I could daydream without some morose “What if?” lurking in my mind.

I tried to hold onto it. I hadn’t felt that way since I was a teenager, riding in the backseat of my mom’s car, listening to R.E.M. on my headphones and letting my mind wander. That was before my brain betrayed me, before a still-changing body took a wrong turn somewhere and made too much of one thing and not enough of others. I’m not sure how brain chemistry works. That’s my only understanding of it.

I was normal, and then I was not.

Now, twenty or so years on, I’m still lying to myself. Every time the poisonous tendrils of mental illness recede, I stupidly let myself think, this is it. You’re free for good this time. And that makes the crash harder.

It came in the middle of the day. A late dose, a change in routine, that’s all it took. What’s wrong with me? Other people can handle a badly timed phone call. Other people can do two simple tasks at once. Other people are better. Worth more.

Normal.

Normal people, better people, don’t crumple over an outing they hadn’t planned for. Normal people don’t plunge from happily drinking their coffee and mindlessly enjoying TV to hiding in bed, comforter pulled over their head, imagining all the ways children are abused every day and sobbing because there’s no way to stop it. Normal people don’t see a constant filmstrip of horrible what-ifs that they can’t turn off even when it leaves them incapable of focusing on anything else. What if I get cancer? What if my children see me die? What if I do die, and years from now they don’t remember my face? All of these on an endless loop, as though they’re fated to happen, they’re happening, they’ve already happened.

I want to be normal.

Instead, I stand in front of the stove, cooking dinner, telling myself I should put my hand in the boiling water. At the time, it will seem perfectly rational. Later, I think about that impulse, how it almost overwhelmed me, and I’m horrified. Ashamed. A normal person wouldn’t try to convince herself to severely scald her own hand. What if I had done it? Why did I let myself think it? Why now?

I woke up that morning normal.

I went to bed crazy.

Even though I know that none of this is my fault, I blame myself because the sickness in my brain tells me to. That sickness shadows me every day, seizes my mind with evil and obsessive thoughts I can’t turn off. It hurts my body, sending false alarms of danger until my chest hurts and I can’t breathe. When I remember that there are times that it’s not like this, I crumble. But I would never give up those “normal” moments, even the fleeting ones. Because they keep me from believing that this is normal. They set boundaries that remind me of the villain that lurks in all the wrinkles of my diseased brain. Sometimes they feel mean, like teasing glimpses of a life I could have if I weren’t so fragile. Other times, like now, they are triumphant. Every time I remember that I’m mentally ill and not a failure, not a freak, I win a small battle over the villain in my mind. I remember that underneath, I can be normal. But I still have to be here, I have to be present, to be normal.

I will stay, until the next normal, and the one after that.

32 Comments

  1. I love those short bursts of feeling like a “regular human being.” But for me, the divide is three-way: ‘normal and okay,’ ‘abnormal but still somewhat okay,’ and then ‘I don’t remember what okay feels like.’

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  2. anon
    anon

    cw: suicidal thoughts, mental illness in general

    bipolar, with stress-linked tremors and medication sensitivities. end result: it’s starting to look like my options are inadequate symptom control on Depakote (translation: can’t get even close to leveled out/mood swings are nasty and neither mania nor depression is fun by now) or “hey I’m *saner* on this but I’m getting tremors in new and entertaining places/patterns and my shrink is all NOOOOOO about continuing writing scripts for it” on anything else.

    Been suicidal, had the self-harm flashes, PMS depression where it feels like there’s a ultra-thin skin of “functional” holding in a never-ending pit of self-loathing, not quite you name it I’ve felt it but enough to be sympathetic.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  3. Stormy
    Stormy

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Jenny.

    I’ve learned that I’m very good at identifying a precipitous drop in my mood: I’ll step back and say “wait a second, I didn’t feel this overwhelmed and useless a few days ago. I’m going into a valley.” Unfortunately, I’m not as good at identifying the “hills”. Life goes on until I hit a wall, and then I get frustrated that I didn’t recognize the good days for what they were.

    I don’t understand how people think of mental illness as something you can smile your way out of. My brain is doing this on its own and isn’t waiting for my input. It’s like trying to smile your way out of the flu: being sick sucks and even if you can manage a smile, it won’t stop you from sneezing.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  4. ann
    ann

    thank you for posting <3

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  5. Ilex
    Ilex

    This post is beautiful and heartbreaking, Jenny. I know that sense of wanting to feel normal. Thank you for expressing it so, so well.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  6. Thank you for this. It’s hard stuff but it’s good to see people older than me struggling with the same stuff I’m struggling with. It makes a future seem more possible. So thanks <3

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  7. Lucy
    Lucy

    Thanks for writing this, it reminds me I’m not alone and not a freak. Today I thought about my mental illness. Sometimes I’m sort of ok for weaks, and then (sometimes I don’t even know why it starts again) it all goes wrong. I’ll have so much to do, but even on a day off can’t even get a simple task done. Even taking a shower is a huge undertaking. There is nothing physically wrong with me to keep me from getting up and moving. I see all these videos of inspiring people who lost limbs and still run marathons. And I can’t get off the sofa and I can’t even explain why. Other than my mind screaming DO IT! But my body not co-operating. I want to be one of those strong powerful women, who get things done and who people admire for their perseverance. But I am such a weak person. so weak, who can’t even make a cup of tea for no goddamn reason at all. A setback to others is often just another obstacle to move around. To me a setback proves I’m worthless, can’t do anything right blahblah. And I hate that so much. I have no energy, and I want it so badly. I hate it all.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
    • Cherry
      Cherry

      You’re not weak. You just spend all of your energy holding yourself together. I’m there too sometimes. Some people can run marathons, but don’t have mental illness. They’re not better or stronger, just dealing with different things than you or I are.

      May 3, 2017
      |Reply
      • Lucy
        Lucy

        On my better days I realise it’s not weakness :D. It’s annoying how little control we have over ourselves sometimes. At least we are not alone! That helps a lot.

        May 4, 2017
        |Reply
    • A. Noyd
      A. Noyd

      There is a goddamn reason, and it’s called “executive dysfunction.” Depression and other mental illnesses can create breakdowns in the path between telling yourself to “go do the thing” and actually getting up to do it. It’s why you’ll find yourself better able to do things when other people are telling you to do them, especially if they’re telling you in the immediate present. For some reason, executive dysfunction has less effect on outside stimulus.

      Other people aren’t “stronger” than you. They just don’t have this particular wrench thrown into their works, or they encounter it less often.

      May 6, 2017
      |Reply
  8. Sharon
    Sharon

    I feel like most things I could say will sound trite or ignorant, but they boil down to this – I wish you the best.

    And there are so many people out here who love your work, your blog, your funny and honest takes on everything from politics to vampire shows. Just in case you needed a reminder. X

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  9. Emily
    Emily

    This matters. Thank you.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  10. Gemma
    Gemma

    Thank you for writing this, Jenny. I can definitely relate. I have been having a really tough couple of days this week and it helps to hear someone else talk about a similar struggle. I often feel like I’m mourning the “normal” me – that she died and is never coming back. The self-hate is so overwhelming. Just today I was having lunch with classmates and was really struggling to contribute to the conversation – my exhaustion completely takes over, and part of that is because I feel like they are all “normal” and I can’t possibly relate to them. I’ve been asked to hang out with them a bunch of times, and I always say yes and then don’t go. I get angry at myself for being a failure and then angry at other people for not understanding/knowing what I’m going through. It just all sucks. But I love your closing lines: “I will stay, until the next normal, and the one after that.” I’ll keep thinking about this.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
    • Mel
      Mel

      I completely agree – I’m also studying and finding it hard to relate to others in my anthology group. They try to include me in their chatter about their fur-babies etc but I feel like other than having a pet I have absolutely nothing to contribute to the conversation. They’re all at the start of their lives and it’s all exciting for them. I’m in the middle of mine and a complete failure at just about everything I’ve tried to do.

      Thank you Jenny, for writing about your own struggle with mental illness. Although I feel for you and hope that you experience more of the normal than the other, it’s comforting to know that there are others out there like me who fight an impulse to self harm on almost a daily basis. if it weren’t for my family I wouldn’t be here. It’s just as simple as that.

      May 5, 2017
      |Reply
  11. KG
    KG

    To use the Skeleton Clique colloquialism…

    Stay alive, fren.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  12. Sandy
    Sandy

    I woke up this morning seeing a panic attack barreling towards me like a train and I was incapable of “simply” stepping off the tracks. My remarkably supportive husband is left to piece together what I struggle to put into words. I sent him this post. Thank you for helping me put it into words.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  13. ironchef
    ironchef

    Thank you so much for this, your eloquence puts things into words in a way my beautiful partner can’t always manage, which is a real gift for someone who often stands by, wishing there was some way to help or even just understand.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  14. Ivory Nethers
    Ivory Nethers

    Thanks for posting this. Sorry you’re not having a normal time right now. You’re still awesome.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  15. Amanda
    Amanda

    I don’t think I know what normal is. This is my normal, it always has been my normal. I was well into adulthood before I learned that not everyone feels this way.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  16. Alison
    Alison

    I often wonder what it’s like to be “normal.” To just make a plan and do it, without obsessing or worrying or trying to foresee every possible thing that could go wrong. Just to say, hey let’s go do this thing and then go do it without a second thought. I think that’s what it would be like to be normal.
    What would it be like to get up in the morning not feeling exhausted? To get into bed at night and fall straight asleep? I think this is something normal people can do most of the time.
    My husband says there’s no such thing as normal. I think there are people whose brains make things easier for them, though. My brain seems to want to do things the hard way.
    Thanks for this post, Jenny. It’s good to know other people understand, although I wish none of us had to feel this way.

    May 3, 2017
    |Reply
  17. BlueSimplicity
    BlueSimplicity

    **hugs** That is all. **hugs**

    May 4, 2017
    |Reply
  18. Kae
    Kae

    I put my hand on the screen when I read this. I do that when I don’t have the words or thoughts to say yes, I know, me too, I’m not alone, I’m sorry, I wish this wasn’t happening to you. Thank you for writing this. Thank you.

    May 5, 2017
    |Reply
  19. Kate
    Kate

    Thank you for sharing this. I empathise with you fiercely because I’m not normal either no matter what I do for medication or therapy. I swing from cheerful to furious to apathetic to considering swerving into the next telephone pole at 80km/hr. I hate it so much, for what it means for my life and my husband’s life and my family and friends. I’m aware that I’m not the only one living like this but most of the time I feel so damn alone.

    May 5, 2017
    |Reply
  20. Amber Rose
    Amber Rose

    Last Saturday, we went to a place for dinner. And as we approached the stairs to head down into it, it morphed in my mind into a literal stairway to hell. I could feel the heat of the fires and the screaming (which was actually just warmth and crowd noises from a packed place during a playoff game). I broke and ran, more scared and upset than I can remember being in a long time.

    Normal people can do something like go get food without running for the hills.

    I understand. Not your exact experience, but the regret and frustration. The struggle.

    It’s so hard. But I tell myself, nothing worth doing is easy.

    May 6, 2017
    |Reply
  21. JordieBelle
    JordieBelle

    Sending you lots of love at the moment. You’re so wise and smart and funny and I’m sorry that things are a struggle at the moment. I really enjoy and appreciate your work and I’m so grateful that you’re going to stick around for those “normal” times. ❤️

    May 6, 2017
    |Reply
  22. Megan Jones
    Megan Jones

    This was probably the most accurate description of mental illness that I’ve ever read. I have type 2 bipolar disorder, and luckily I have a great friend who also has bipolar, so every time one of us crashes the other one can remind her, “Your brain is lying to you. Your disease is trying to kill you. Eventually you’ll feel okay.” But it’s a really goddamn hard thing to acknowledge when you’re in the thick of it. I hope you feel better soon.

    May 7, 2017
    |Reply
  23. Abi
    Abi

    I commented on the previous post instead of this one. Duh. Please read that comment with this in mind!

    May 7, 2017
    |Reply
  24. Zev
    Zev

    I identified with this a lot. Thank you so much for posting it.

    May 7, 2017
    |Reply
  25. mydogspa
    mydogspa

    Jen,

    Thanks for sharing. Other than *hug*, is there anything we can do to help?

    May 8, 2017
    |Reply
  26. Karin
    Karin

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re feeling bad. And I can relate so, so much to what you’re saying. The wanting to feel normal. Even though I try to tell myself there’s no such thing as normal. Even though I try not to feel judgemental about my disease. I try to refrain from the normal-abnormal dichotomy, because I don’t need words to make me feel worse than I already feel.
    Most of the time, while in my lows, I fail spectacularly, cursing myself for being this sick waste of space, wishing I was normal like everyone else. Thinking I’m probably the only one feeling and thinking the sick crap my mind spews at me.

    But I’m not alone. Even though I wouldn’t wish my depression upon my worst enemy, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

    Maybe there’s comfort in that knowledge for you too.

    And I still think you’re awesome. Even moreso after this post, because I admire your openness and your strength to show your weaknesses. Perhaps it’s difficult for you to believe right now (I know it is for me when I’m depressed), but it’s true. And I’m confident that you’ll get to that point again where you’ll feel better about yourself. After all, you’ve been there before, which means you can get there again.

    May 8, 2017
    |Reply
  27. Casey
    Casey

    There’s nothing for me to add to this, but I just wanted to be another voice thanking you for this post, because I know sometimes a single comment in your email can be the only thing that picks you up that day.

    So thank you so much, Jenny, for your humor, your intelligence, your openness, and your ability to express what so many of us are feeling in ways we never could. You’re a gift; so are your books; so is this blog; so is this post.

    Thanks. 🙂

    May 12, 2017
    |Reply
  28. hanna
    hanna

    Well, this particular depressive alcoholic envies your empathy. I’m in the stuck-in-my-bullshit-so-hurt-everyone-i-love-and-I’m-also-numb-and-dead-inside. This makes me sound like I’m discounting your pain, but I’m actually more interested in observing how different mental illnesses manifest (because apparently i have no emotions anymore).

    May 17, 2017
    |Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *