Monday, July 26, 2004

The Elusive Normal

I suppose that being frustrated and impatient is an inherent part of being sick. It's the I-want-to-get-better-NOW syndrome. Having a mental illness or a brain disorder as certain activists would say is additionally challenging because recovery entails the endless pursuit of normality.

Yet no doctor I've talked to can tell me what exactly this normalcy involves. Some say that my moods will be more consistent. Others posit that I'll be able to live free of the fear of upcoming panic attacks or depressive episodes.

Of course, until I was 19, I thought that my thoughts and my moods were just like everyone else's. We all feel sad, we all feel scared, we all feel happy. My cultural acumen taught me that all teenage girls feel unhappy, ugly and moody. Being a teen is supposed to be hard. If you don't struggle, you're not normal.

No one ever told me what normal felt like and so, to me, I was normal. At what point do you learn that the way you think and feel isn't how everyone else relates? One of my roommates my sophomore year of college told me about her childhood—a time she spent living alone with her paranoid schizophrenic mother. This girl believed her mother when she was told that people at Kmart poisoned candy, that her friends actually hated her, that she shouldn't wear shoes because the manufacturers put chips in them to track people's movements. Poor kid believed her mom until she slowly started to realize that the catastrophic situations her mom saw in everyday objects never happened. After dissecting a show and finding no chip in it, her view of her mom shifted. This cognitive paradigm wasn't accurate.

When I was younger, no one said that a person could be too happy or too productive. No one mentioned that feeling down for months at a time was not just part of being a teen. Unfortunately, nobody noticed that I wasn't normal.

It's hard for me not to view my label as an identity, like alcholics are always alcoholics. Instead of saying, hi I'm George, an alcoholic, I should say, hey I'm Becky and I'm entirely bipolar. In fact, if you hang around me long enough, you'll see me so lethargic that I don't get out of bed, and so energetic that I barely sleep at all. Jeckyl and Hyde, perhaps.

I've found myself identifying with other crazy people on the news. There was a story about a woman in a manic episode who believed that the police chasing her down a San Diego freeway were trying to kill her. Not surprisingly, she was speeding away from them like a social conservative at a lesbian mothers' meeting. She hit a car with four people in it, killing two of them.

While most people were outraged that this "crazy" woman was out on the streets, I was furious that the city of San Diego and the state of CA had failed to provide her with adequate care that could have prevented this tragedy. Now, through no fault of her own, she has to live with the fact that during a psychotic break which could have been prevented with the right medication, she killed two people. With the right support, she might have been at work instead of speeding down a freeway.

Screw normal! I wouldn't want to be like that—whatever the hell that is—anyway.