There were good days just recently, I swear. Until three days ago, there was a whole string of good days. I was getting my medication schedule back on track; I was looking forward to return to a life that was cancer-free; normal was around the corner. I could feel it.
The above is a half-truthed (mostly) lie.
This is how I look back after a few bad days, because when in the midst of bad, it is easy to reinterpret previous situations as better. If I am honest, though, the entire week before these three bad days was not so good, either.
There are little lies I allow in order to sell myself on the notion that I have barometer with which to gauge normal. Usually the lie takes this form: how I am feeling and thinking now is not this so-called normal, but that time then when I was doing and saying those normal things? I was normal then.
Until recent years, I had not realized how obsessed I am with this concept of normalcy. Having felt greater and lesser degrees of depression and anxiety since the age of two, I have never had this sense of normal I talk about, and yet I look outward and try to staple it down where I think it must be. I tell myself that normal was that time when I was fourteen and my cousin and I went swimming with a couple of boys we had met; normal was when I learned how to knit at the church girls' club; normal was grieving the deaths of the Palinode's and my first pets. Normal is what, on the surface, other people seem to be and do. I have been envious for years.
I know that normal is an ideal I have created out of the barrage of messages about what it is to be someone born female, white, and middle class. I should be a very specific kind of attractive, have a university degree, and two children. I should want a car and a yard. I should suffer mild lapses of happiness, but only because I am privileged enough to lament how hard it is to afford a larger house or a second car or a chin lift.
Even I can see that when I describe normal, I am describing a world of paper dolls with interchangeable, tabbed accessories. It is a much less normal and more a stiff version of the new 1950s suburbia. The normal to which I tend to refer, in my efforts to describe certain spans of my life as such, has evolved into a more or less static state with little emotional fluctuation. Normal is a cardboard cut-out diorama.
And suddenly, upon writing that last sentence, I cock my head to the side and press my lips together with the realization that the perception of normal I have been carrying with me is not even something I desire. I would want it if I did not mind feeling like bland, animated oatmeal, but thankfully, that is not the case.
(This realization, by the way, happens several times a year. That is the nature of realizations. They spark up from your consciousness and snuff out as soon as the next shiny thing happens by.)
This is by no means a justification for the my life's dramatic downward swings, no. What this realization does is show that the normal I perceive is not an achievable state to which I aspire but my dream of a state of emotional lack. When the chain of varying degrees of bad days string further and further out behind me, the idea of being bland yet animated oatmeal for a while starts to look pretty good.
As I grow older, though, I am less and less driven to reinterpret past events as normal or not normal, especially now that I see it as a gauge by which I measure a generalized, suburban mediocrity and not a unique individual's experience of the world. It is safe to pinpoint moments when I was not on the brink as proofs of my relative stability. The difficulty lies in letting go of the dream of a life for myself that does not involve my whole complicated, depressed, anxious, paranoid, insomniac history. This life I have doesn't fit there; it is too large and loud and bold.
Perhaps, losing normal will stretch me forward from the present rather than backward into a past that already gave up.
(This entry was originally published at RealMental.org.)