Seriously, I am as normal as you.

Mental Health Awareness Month – May 2012
Bringing Mental Health out of the darkness

This month, in some countries, it is Mental Health Awareness Month.  I should add though, that it’s not in my country (New Zealand).  For some reason our Mental Health Awareness activities happen in October.  So perhaps I’ll re-post this in October for the sake of my kiwi readers.  If you like, you kiwis can take a sneak peek now, and we just won’t tell the NZ Mental Health Foundation.

As regular readers know, I have several mental illnesses  to my name and have been on a journey with them for quite some time.  Perhaps because of that, you might prefer to say I’m not normal.  Fair enough.  As only one in four people will experience mental illness in their lifetime, I recognise that it leaves me in the minority.  But hey, that’s an awful lot of people who will experience something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  That could include you.  No one is exempt.

It doesn’t really matter what you call me.  You can call me crazy if it suits you, but it all depends on your perspective.  I have many friends who also struggle with mental illness, and so I actually don’t find it strange, odd, insane, crazy or even just a little bit different.  It’s just life.  Regularly I see jokes about the ‘crazy people’ and the ‘insane’.  They’re there for all of us to see.  Well, I want you to know that we who you might put in that category also joke, but it’s about how we would hate to be called ‘normal’.  ‘Normal’ means like everyone else, and unfortunately to us, normal often means not having a heart for others who suffer (no matter what the nature of their suffering is).  I saw a pic today that said ‘normal is a setting on a hair dryer’.  Hmm.  I don’t know about that.  I do know though that I would love to have never been through the hell I’ve been through.  But I have, and there’s nothing I can do about it other than to learn from it, and move on.

I don’t mean to judge anyone else but something I have noticed in my years of mental illness is that the unscrupulous suffering (of any sort) has one advantage.  Somehow it makes people more compassionate toward others, it cuts out the need to judge others and leaves people unafraid of accepting the differences of others.  Other people become okay regardless of who or what they are, and I think that’s because we have often experienced being judged as unacceptable ourselves.

When I was first diagnosed with depression I admit I was horrified.  Mental Illness was something that I could accept for others, but not for myself.  But when I said I accepted it in others, I almost put those people in a different class.  Something okay for them, but not me.  I’ve realised now that it is not accepting of those people to have that attitude.

My doctor sent me off to a psychiatrist, and he told me I was going to a specialist.  I had no idea what was wrong with me so didn’t for one minute expect I was going to see a psychiatrist.  It wasn’t until the end of my first psychiatric evaluation that the ‘specialist’ gave me his card and I realised just where I was.  I was mortified.  Again, okay for anyone else, but not okay for me.  He prescribed anti-depressants and yes, again I was horrified and thought ‘how would I ever admit this to anyone?’

And sure enough my fear of being judged was realised when a few people made comments like “you don’t really need that do you?”  Well actually I did, and if I hadn’t had the psychiatric help or the psychiatric medication I would be dead.  I think those people were like me.  They could accept mental illness for the people in a psychiatric hospital where those people couldn’t disturb their world.  It was okay for those unknown people to be put away but it wasn’t okay for one of our friends to be crumbling in a heap, losing her career and wanting to die.  It was too close for comfort.  One of those people who judged me, and deserted our friendship, was a nurse by profession (not a psychiatric nurse admittedly).  I am quite sure she could find compassion and empathy for a patient in her job, but to give it to me, a friend, was too much.  Maybe too close to home.

…so said Glenn Close

I lost friends as a result of my mental illness, but actually while it hurt deeply at the time, it’s okay now because I know the friends I still have are here to stay.  Those people mean so much more to me, because they stayed.  For years I have struggled to keep up my end of the friendships (because of my illness) but those people have accepted where I have been at, even though they didn’t necessarily understand what was happening.  That means the world to me.

The thing is that mental illness can happen to any of us.  One in four people.  For some, the illness can be caused or aggravated by past events in their lives but for a lot of people, mental illness just is.  It just happens, for little reason.I am no different from you.  I’m normal.  I have a heart that pumps blood through my body and the last scan of my brain showed it to be… normal.  It’s just that I happen to be one of those one in four.  You could be too.

Mental Health Awareness (whether in May or October) matters because it can happen to anyone.  No one knows what their life might involve from this day on, and no one knows if the next person will be them.  I don’t say this as a scare tactic but rather to highlight that I am just like you.  While I previously thought it was okay for other people, I now realise that I have to accept that it’s okay for me too.  And the attitude of all those around me, helps me to do that.  I believe all of us have to get to the point where we can say it is okay for us.  It’s not something you would want, but it could still happen.

The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is
suffering from some more of mental illness.  Think of your three
best friends.  If they’re okay, then it’s you.”

 – Rita Mae Brown

12 thoughts on “Normal

  1. Wonderfully stated, Cate. One in four is not a vast statistic. That means a lot of us live with a different kind of normal, but a normal nonetheless. It’s about time the rest of the world comes at accept our normal as well. There are no excuses for this kind of complacency or discrimination. Many of us were “born this way” too.

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