Searching for My ‘Normal’ in Life With Bipolar Disorder
I was diagnosed with bipolar II a month shy of turning 23. I’m now well into my 37th year. I have lived with this disease for the majority of my adult life, and I realize I don’t know what it means to be what society says is “normal.”
What is “normal?” When I was 13 in 1992, I remember one of my religious school confirmation teachers asking the class that question, and no one had an answer, not even my teacher.
She asked us this to get us to think. To think beyond the typical thoughts of being in eighth grade as we continue to transition into adulthood. To realize what we read in our teen magazines or what we watched on television wasn’t the whole spectrum of life. She wanted us to understand not one single person is “normal.” I’ve thought about that ever since.
One day in March of 2002, I woke up not feeling what I thought was normal. It was the last day of spring break of my senior year in college, and I realized I had been depressed for many days (after months of being on a manic high). Although I didn’t feel sad, I felt angry, and I knew something wasn’t right. I was throwing things around my apartment (mostly pillows so I didn’t break anything). I was blaming everything about me on the world, and I sat down crying in the shower for no real reason.
Something wasn’t normal. It was after this breakdown that I was diagnosed with my mental illness, and I’ve lived on this roller coaster ever since.
Up until recently, I thought I had only had one manic episode leading up to the depression before my breakdown. I thought I really must only struggle with depression because I never felt a manic high like the one I had the winter before the breakdown. Besides, this must be the reason I have only been on an antidepressant, and I haven’t been on a mood stabilizer in more than a decade.
I realized I was wrong. There were a lot of bouts of hypomania I thought were my normal self, and I never talked about those with my psychiatrist (which is a whole other blog post in itself.)
But what is normal for me?
As I currently feel myself slowly going into a depression (as I typically do right before Thanksgiving), I feel like I recently got to see a bit of normalcy. For a month, I felt like a happy person, without the hypomania symptoms. When I felt a little down, it lasted maybe a few minutes or an hour, and it was without my regular depression symptoms.
I felt positive and good about myself without the grandiose thoughts I’ve had so frequently before. I could go shopping without thinking I needed everything I saw and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars at a time. My thoughts weren’t racing too much that I felt like my head was going to explode, and I could easily fall asleep without watching a rerun on television to distract me. In fact, I was sleeping a full eight hours without waking up, and I could easily wake up without being groggy or cranky.
I could even walk outside without my sunglasses on cloudy days because it didn’t seem like it was still “bright” outside. All the other symptoms of hypomania and depression didn’t seem to be there for once in years. Is that how “normal people” who do not have a diagnosed mental illness feel?
I think normal for me over the past 14 and a half years has been cycling from a depression (whether light or deep) to hypomania to depression then back to hypomania and back to depression. This is the first time in a long time I think I had a month of just being in the middle, and it felt great!
Is there such a thing as “normal?”
I don’t think so. I think normal is what you make of it. I realize normal for me has been cycling through my bipolar symptoms, and I understand that now. However, I’ve decided I want to feel the way I did this past month for a long period of time. I want a new “normal” for me.
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