In the adolescent years, I’m pretty sure that everyone wonders if they’re normal. I know for sure that girls do, and I would assume the same is for boys. Adolescence is the time in life when kids start to try and determine where their place is in the world. Somewhere along the way, most people land on a conclusion of who they are, whether it is of their own cognition or from the leadings of others. At some point, we quit wondering if we’re normal. We usually decide that we are probably at least close to normal and move on from the question.
Here’s the ringer – if something is all you have ever known, you probably qualify it as normal, even if it isn’t. Behavior is an area where normalcy can be determined simply through exposure. Beliefs and the workings of one’s brain are not so.
First, most of us don’t really question if our thoughts or habits are normal, unless there is some big change from what we are used to – our personal normal. The English language is not very exact, at least in the way we tend to use it. There are limits to how we can communicate thoughts and feelings. We say we love cake and then say we love our husband. These are obviously two different things (at least we hope), but are communicated with the same word. Because of this, two people can say that they are feeling “down” or “energetic,” but be communicating completely different levels of these emotions as compared to another person’s experience. Feeling words are extremely subjective and relative to one’s own experience.
Besides being difficult to communicate, thoughts and feelings are also difficult to quantify, if quantifiable at all. Since my recent re-diagnosis of bipolar disorder (manic-depression), I have wished there was some way to measure my symptoms. For instance, one of the symptoms of bipolar is racing thoughts. I, however, had never considered my thoughts to be moving fast enough to be considered “racing,” and there is no test to measure how fast your thoughts are coming. The only indication I have ever had that my thoughts might be a bit fast was that I knew I really wore out my husband at times, but I just figured it was one of those man / woman things.
Normally in my hypomania, my racing thoughts focus around projects or purchases. The ideas pop into my head one after another, each feeling like they are absolutely urgent and must be taken care of right away. Thankfully, I have somehow anchored myself to the fact that we have a limited budget, so I tend to make a list of “urgent purchases” and then research them to death, rather than running out to buy them, even though EVERYTHING in my mind and body is telling me the item is essential to our lives. Sometimes thoughts move so fast that I can’t write or type fast enough to get them out. My handwriting gets super messy and my typing has tons of errors because I am just going too fast. Before educating myself on bipolar disorder, I never considered that any of these things might be abnormal. Why should I? These, what I thought were “quirks,” had been with me ever sense adolescence.
Now, there have been times in my life when I have had passing thoughts that some of my behavior might be a bit off. I have often thought it strange that I can’t pin down certain things about myself because my life is so marked by opposite extremes. For instance, when shopping, it’s like there are two versions of me. One shopping trip everything I like will be bohemian or hippyish, and the next trip everything I pick out will be completely plain and very likely black. When choosing things for my house, one day I will want to decorate with a neutral earthy look, and another day I will want everything to be shabby chic and girly. It’s a bit hard to keep up with.
I have also thought it peculiar that particular projects, purchases or goals will have the utmost importance one day and then another day they won’t even matter to me. I have heard people say they “get on kicks,” so that’s what I filed my behavior away as. Most recently my most “grandiose” plans have included accepting a full time position from home, while still homeschooling and taking care of our five children, mind you. Going back to school to get my master’s degree, writing a book, and deciding I should be promoting myself as a speaker for retreats and events. That doesn’t sound unrealistic, right? I mean, yes, I have five children ages 2 to 7, and yes, I homeschool our oldest two, and yes, my husband now travels for work. But, I should be able to accomplish at least a few of these, right?
Just recently I have realized that my plans are sometimes unreasonable. Honestly, most of the time I don’t actually realize that. My husband realizes it for me. The funny thing is that my husband so much believes in me, and I tend to be so persuasive when I am manic, that he usually pauses to consider my newest endeavor. I guess I should say he used to consider them. Since my diagnosis, he now smiles real cute and suggests that maybe, just maybe, I might be having some “grandiose delusions”. That’s a common symptom of mania.
Now, I know that I’m not the only one who has found themselves living in the abnormal. The problem is, it tends to take something really big to wake us up to that fact. For me, it was ending up in the ER and being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Wouldn’t it be better if we could come to those conclusions before something goes seriously wrong?
I think one way to see if there is something abnormal is going on is to evaluate the things that cause a lot of trouble for you in relationships or just in life in general. Is there a particular issue that comes up over and over again that causes problems? The whole idea of dysfunction is that something is not working (i.e. functioning) correctly. Well, if it’s not working correctly, that means it isn’t working in the intended or normal way. I break down the meaning of the word because dysfunction is so common in this day and age that it’s misconstrued by many as somewhat normal. However, just because something is common or prevalent does not make it normal. Cancer is a very common disease, but that doesn’t make it the normal state of the human body.
In marriage counseling this past year, Jeff and I realized that some areas in our relationship were abnormal and needed to change. One area in particular always caused us serious drama and strain, but since we didn’t have anything to compare it to, we weren’t aware that the problem was due to dysfunction and abnormal beliefs rather than just normal difficulties. It wasn’t until we got everything out into the open and brought someone else into the details of our issues that we were confronted with the truth that we had some very unhealthy beliefs that were damaging our relationship.
Well, I certainly hope you don’t have an undiagnosed mental illness or are having difficulties in your marriage, as fun as those things are, but I do hope you will take some time to consider that it might be time to evaluate that belief, expectation or behavior that tends to be at the center of so much of your trouble. Maybe you, your behavior and your beliefs are completely normal. Or maybe it is actually abnormal that’s your normal.