Normal is a word that causes a lot of distress for everyone. The problem is, though, no one seems to actually know what normal is. Most seem to chase the illusion of normal like a greyhound chasing the rabbit. My favorite quote is: “Normal is an illusion, what is normal to the spider is chaos to the fly.” Like happiness, normal can be externalized, and it should not be. If you use others as a standard or source of either, you will always find yourself lacking.
Like many externalize the definition of normal, they diminish their personal power by externalizing the source of help. There is a false belief that medication alone is a cure. In addition to pharmaceuticals, self medication is pervasive and problematic, because neither can adequately address root causes. When someone struggles with their mind and moods, it can feel out of control and powerless. Medications provide some stability, but the reality is that the only person who can help you is you – the expert.
Awareness/knowing yourself is critical. It is so easy to become disassociated or desensitized to yourself. I ignored my anxiety until my panic attacks became so overwhelming I was twitching and stuttering. I called my depressed moods “bad days” and intrusive thoughts “my stupid brain” It is tempting to Google your symptoms, but everyone experiences symptoms of different diagnoses. This is where the problem of normal comes in, because most think normal is happy all of the time, and that is not reality. If it is impossible to truly define normal – how does one become aware that what they are experiencing requires help?
I would ignore my symptoms and push myself to “just suck it up”.. It was hell for my body and mind. I did not become aware that I needed help until I was admitted to the mental hospital. If how I felt was how I felt all of my life, how was I supposed to know? The truth is, I did know, but I chose to ignore. I was sobbing uncontrollably, I was using alcohol and pot to quiet things down, and I wanted to die constantly. My life felt completely out of control, and I felt like I was drowning every day. I have found meditation to be instrumental in becoming more aware – I notice accelerated breathing and heart rate more easily, as well has different discomfort in my body. I find it easier to know when depression is setting in, and I find it less traumatic, because I was aware that it was starting. Meditation has taught me to observe myself non judgmentally. Before, every symptom would be greeted with, “I AM NOT NORMAL!”
Now, I quietly observe and journal – my keys to awareness. I use my journal for everything. I often do a self inventory in my journal – on a scale of 1-10, I rate my anxiety, depression, and I use a word to describe my mood. I take a few moments and reflect on WHY I feel that way. I now think of normal in terms of me – normal for me. If I had a very stressful morning, a fight with someone, or I am ruminating on something, I write that in my journal, to help me identify patterns.
We are all triggered by people, our environment, and our diet. All of these have impacts on our brain chemistry, mood, and overall well-being. As a woman, my hormones affect me drastically. During PMS and menustration, I struggle mightily with anxiety and depression. My mood lability (fluctuation) is dramatic. Not only does journaling assist with seeing the patterns/triggers, it helps you feel less crazy. We’re so often triggered without even realizing it. Our sponge-like minds suck up crap, before we know it, we feel like crap. Mood charting is helpful, and you can find many examples with a quick Google or apps for your phone. With practice and reflection, you can become more aware of situations, circumstances, or people that affect you. I have had to stop talking to friends because I realized they trigger the hell out of me.
Another benefit of journaling is to make your emotions and thoughts tangible. For many, there is a beehive buzzing away, and it feels so chaotic and large. As a mom of three, anxious is a baseline, and my to do list seems insurmountable. When I sit myself down and jot what is contributing to my anxiety/what I feel I need to accomplish, my brain becomes more quiet and calm. My to do list is rarely as bad as it feels in my mind. This becomes empowering. I feel less helpless towards my brain or anxiety, and I feel more prepared. I also use my journal for plans, if I notice my depression or anxiety is on the rise, I write what coping skills I will use, I write what works and does not, so I have my own notes/references for the future.
This helps in the therapeutic realm for being an informed and educated patient. As you raise your self awareness, you can determine what coping skills you can utilize, where your weaknesses are, and what is affecting your life. As with my example for hormones – there are many women who take an SSRI or SNRI solely when PMSing. You become active in your health, versus reactive to your symptoms. You also can evaluate if your therapeutic plan & medications are actually helping you. By taking charge of helping yourself, your doctors are better able to assist you.
My wording is important there – they ASSIST you. No doctor is your boss, because you are the expert on yourself. I would never tell someone what to do therapeutically, but I will emphasize that no one can make you take medications. You can be admitted to the mental hospital against your will for suicide attempts, plans, ideation, self harm, or plans/attempts to hurt another. If you are trying to find a mass definition of normal, I assume that could be applied.
The threshold for seeking help is not to be normal, it is to positively impact your quality of life. When you look at your moods and symptoms, do not use the lens of normal, use the lens of “What is my quality of life? What could improve my quality of life? What symptoms affect my quality of life?” As I said, everyone experiences symptoms of depression, anxiety, etc. the key differentiation is how it impacts your life. Having an understanding of your symptoms, their impact, and your triggers will make you more empowered to help yourself, and an educated patient with your doctors.