Spend any amount of time on social media and you will see proclamations about how there is no “normal” being thrown around. “There is no such thing as normal.” “Normal is just a setting on a washing machine.” Blah blah blah.
There is a normal. I believe that normal is at the most basic level of human existence. My regular readers will know that I have a severe Bipolar-Depression component of Bipolar Disorder. I’ve spent about 80% of my teenage to adult life mired in mild to suicidal Bipolar-Depression ranging from just “fuck it all” to “put a 9mm to my head and pull the trigger on a dud round” suicidal. Though many people equate depression to sadness; it is really more like your feelings are muted (or “depressed”).
The analogy I use to describe it is that of a stained glass window. A stained glass window is alive and vibrant with color when light pours through it. Consider that to be life and normal emotion. Depression is layer after layer after layer of wax paper put over that stained glass window. It diffuses the color, the light, the vibrancy. The wax paper mutes the light and makes it hard to perceive. You look at it, and you know it’s supposed to be bright and vibrant; but all you can perceive is the muted colors trying to get through. At least, until there is so much wax paper on the window that it is all gray.
By and large, that was my normal for a majority of my adult life. Day in, day out. Wake up in the morning, curse silently to myself that I woke up again. Look in the mirror, hate what I see. Grind through another meaningless, pointless day to when I can go back to sleep. Avoid human contact, put on the plastic smile so people will stop asking what’s wrong because I had no idea what’s wrong. And when I dipped far and low enough- contemplate killing myself. Should I unsnap my seat belt, punch it to 100, and hit that bridge support? Should I slit my wrist and step off of the local bridge to ensure I don’t survive this time? Should I drink tonight? Get high? Make it all go away for awhile?
That was my normal, but that is not normal.
Humans are not meant to function in that kind of emotional wasteland. We are social, emotional creatures; even the introverts out there. We are supposed to have feelings; including happiness from time to time! I know it exists. I felt it once, in what I suspect was the window between a dosage increase and my body getting acclimated to it. I felt sad. There was no numbness, no void, no emptiness. I just felt sad and I had that feeling you get behind your eyes when you’re about to cry; but no tears came. Then, I realize I had felt sad without depression and that made me happy and excited. There was no stain of hypomania, no accelerated thinking, no erratic behavior, no unreasonable emotions; just warm and positive even though the overall circumstances were sad.
That’s the only time I remember feeling genuinely happy or sad in probably 20 years. It stands out so starkly in my mind because of how different it felt. The rest of the time? Barring hypomania, I’m standing below that stained glass window, waiting for any kind of light to get through and show me something beautiful. I want it, even if it is something just as simple as feeling good about stepping out into a sunshiny day and listening to birds sing.
I know a lot of people that are depressed who do not realize they are depressed. No, I’m not a doctor or therapist. I am someone who has lived with severe Bipolar-Depression for a long time. I know what it is for the same reason I know what a chair is. It has four legs, a back, sometimes arms, and you sit in it. It’s a common and consistent part of my life. Just as common to me as the void that is depression, if not more so. After all, when I wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling, I’m not looking at a chair; but my old friend Bipolar-Depression is typically there to greet me.
Anyway, I regularly see the depressed tell themselves that it’s normal to feel placid or nothing constantly. That life is hard. There are wars and famine and cruel injustices in the world; and they should just be thankful for what they have in life instead of striving for better. Depression is incredibly common because of this.
But therein is the problem. Even people in terrible circumstances are able to find a piece of happiness once in awhile. Maybe it’s their child’s smile. Maybe it’s a delicious meal. It doesn’t have to be complicated or grandiose. The point is, they feel something other than emptiness, numbness, and misery. Something other than another gray day to grind through until they can go back to sleep.
The mocking humor in this? Depression is relatively easy to treat. No, it doesn’t necessarily mean shoveling meds down your throat. A change in sleeping and living habits can potentially provide relief. Exercise and dieting can help. There are many routes that could have a beneficial impact on the person that should be explored with a general practitioner.
But they don’t, because it’s “normal” to be gray, miserable, and feel little to nothing.
Normal is being able to conduct your life in a meaningful way. It’s being able to function appropriately in a healthy way. You can be rich, poor, goth, punk, hip-rop, city, country, conservative, liberal; whatever. The unifying factor is the ability to conduct your life in a meaningful way; regardless of how you choose to pursue your existence. THAT is normal.
As for me? I’m a Type 2 Bipolar with a severe Bipolar-Depression component. I’m still staring at that stained glass window, waiting for an antidepressant to cut through the wax paper and let the light flood back in. I catch it in glimpses here and there. I can see it trying. Just going to take some more time and some more work to get to the real normal.
The grayness and chaos of Bipolar-normal for me is not normal for all; even other Bipolars.
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