Looking at “Normal”

November 18, 2015 at 12:06 am

Writes Therese Borchard in her blog, Sanity Break, on Everyday Health::

Ten years ago, when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was working with a psychiatrist who wanted me to alert him at the first hint of a creative thought. Whether it was an article idea or, God forbid, a concept for a book — any scribbling into a notebook, because that was surely an indication that I was experiencing hypomania and needed a higher dose or a different kind of antipsychotic — he wanted for me to get in touch. He put the fear of God into me that any sign of life in my comatose brain or body meant that I was spiking before crashing into a debilitating depression.

She adds:

Even after I left him to work with a much more skilled physician, I had this paranoia about feeling good: “Am I hypomanic?” I would ask my psychiatrist. “I don’t want to die today, which clearly means I’m hypomanic, right?” Every emotion and response to life’s events became a symptom. I categorized all crying sessions as “depression,” and filed any type of excitement or energy under “mania.” The terrain between the two, or what we consider “normal,” was a thin thread of land that I visited as often as the Gaza Strip.

Here’s where I come in:

But we really should widen our concept of “normal” — challenge ourselves to see our responses, temperaments, and our very selves as more US than illness — explains mental health expert John McManamy in his new book, Not Just Up and Down: Understanding Mood in Bipolar Disorder, the first of a Bipolar Expert Series.

She goes on to cite a passage from my book:

I had no idea when I began this book of the emphasis I would give to “normal.” Once I got several chapters in, though, it became clear I needed to regard normal as a mood episode unto itself, as worthy of our respect as depression and mania and hypomania and anxiety. This was one of those Newton-under-the-apple tree moments for me. From there, “normal” literally took over the book.

If our “normal” fails us, our depressions and manias and anxieties are sure to follow suit. Or, looking at it from a slightly different perspective, if our normal is too fragile, depression and mania and anxiety are going to come crashing through the door. This is where the Socratic injunction to “know thyself” acquires a new sense of urgency.

Therese, who I regard as the one of the few people on a planet of seven billion that gets me, totally grasps where I’m coming from, namely:  We can’t come to terms with our bipolar until we come to terms with ourselves. Our ups and downs only have meaning in relations to our sense of “normal.” And normal has many ways of failing us. As Therese explains:

Throughout the book, he demands that his readers get to know themselves, to evaluate their history of symptoms and life circumstances, and to navel-gaze a bit and explore themselves as if they were a foreign country for which they desire a visa. That knowledge, he asserts, is going to help you expand the time you spend in the normal Gaza Strip of your life, and better manage your episodes in the seas of depression and mania that border. Normal is what we’ve striving for, and ironically, we might be there more often than we think we are.

Lots more on “normal” in blog posts to come. In the meantime, I urge you to read Therese’s post in full, and to check out my book on Amazon …

Purchase now.