The first year that Dr. Mind treated me we had a few disputes. Ok, a number of disputes. One that we've discussed many times since was the time he absolutely left me horrified.
I had spent years pushing and struggling to appear entirely normal. The end result was a mess with work where they had no clue that when I started saying that doing my job and my assistant's job after she was fired (which meant working 60 hours per week plus a 75-90 minute commute; seems that has been my fate to lose things over driving distance) was too much. And eventually this put me on disability for about 4 months. That along with lithium toxicity, the stress of changing therapists from one who didn't hold me accountable to Dr. Mind who does, stomach ulcers, and some other things. And during those months I worked very hard with Dr. Mind. It was the period of time in my life that at 30 or 31 years old I learned to cry. Kind of, since mainly I cry with Dr. Mind and rarely otherwise, like rarely enough I'm not sure Dr. Brain had ever seen me sob until last week and she's treated me for much longer. It was the first time anyone pushed me to talking about and dealing with some of the losses related to working. It was also the first time I wasn't sure and nobody would promise that I was going to succeed at work when I returned. So I had 2 or 3 months that were very hard and then a few weeks that were more about adjusting gradually to the changes in how I saw myself. Until that time I had never thought of myself as disabled or that I wouldn't always manage. So soon before I was to go back to work I said something about being able to be normal again. Dr. Mind stopped me and said no, that I needed to stop thinking of how to be normal and start thinking that I was living and managing but accomodating my disability. I was just learning to look him in the face while we talked. Anyway, we went through a number of sessions talking about my desire to be normal and how that had to change to a desire to live the best I could because I was putting too much pressure on myself trying to be things I couldn't. Since then he's brought it up every so often, partly because it has born repition and revision, and partly because the face I made was apparently rather memorable. Here's what I wrote the day it happened:
This blog is the only place in my whole life where I publicly say "I'm Just Me and I'm bipolar and I have some ugly symptoms, I do weird things to cope, and either you accept that or you can leave". As may be obvious, otherwise I pretty much hide. I tell close co-workers a little bit. For all the years I've been diagnosed and the years before that when I should have been, I've spent most of my time pushing very, very hard to seem absolutely normal. Over the last year or so this has worked less and less well, but I've never done anything else so I've continued. Ultimately it got me in trouble because I refused to say that I couldn't do something because I knew that if I did not have bipolar disorder I would be able to do it. Therefore I used up every ounce of energy I had, and kept working long past when a sensible person would have said no more. So I have spent a lot of this summer fighting with the fact that I'm sick and this means I can't do everything I want to, or even need to, do and that I have to quit fighting this.
So today I was sitting there curled up in my chair as per usual talking about returning to work in SIX DAYS and how I was scared that I would not be able to seem ok. I thought that "ok" was a reasonable place to aim for (it's less than normal, after all), but the psychologist told me that's not it. He told me I'm not ok in terms of being able to do the same things everyone else does, and I need to focus on doing what I can do, not on what some standard I'm setting is. Or something like that. But I reacted much like he had slapped me; I was really startled by this concept put quite that bluntly. I have no idea how to not push as hard as I can; it's not just my coping technique, it's my personality.
Ever since then he has pointed out to me when I was dealing with "normal" issues. In the nearly 2 years that my meds were exactly what I needed he would frequently tell me when work was hard or I was tired of dealing with people that I had wanted normal so badly and that I was living a normal life. Generally I'd wind up smiling and admitting that this was true. Unfortunately I think during some of that "normal" time I was starting to get sicker and it was masked by the physical problems. I have no way to know when my mood started to get messed up. I think that it was around when I went back to work after my vacation in June. The end of June is when I started to have constant pain and I know that by July I was having panic attacks, including one severe enough to require a phone call to Dr. Brain.
But anyway, the point is that normal was a goal for me, one that I achieved. I had about 18 months that I was able to say my problems were normal. It was a nice gift that certainly didn't seem likely. I don't think I want a new normal yet. I'm still grieving the loss of the only time I ever had normal. Losing what even Dr. Mind thought I would never gain is part of what hurts the most; the last 2 years were bonus time for me and going from better than anyone dreamed I'd be to long-term or permanent disability is really rough. I don't want to ever get myself so attached to an idea when so much can change so quickly.
Normal for me is probably never going to be normal normal again, making it something I need to stop thinking about having. One lesson, learned twice.