What is normal?

What is normal? I’m not sure but if there is such a thing then I have to imagine that anyone who doesn’t fall into that category is unique and that is much better than being normal. Normal is something created by those who don’t wish to believe there is a problem. So if you say “I have depression” some people will decide that you are different but actually you are just “normal”. Every one, and I mean everyone, has something different going on. So there is no normal. Not really. In reality you are human. Humans have flaws.  If there was such a thing as normal then it would mean that a certain percentage of humans were all alike.  Which would make everyone else abnormal and because some people do think like that, this is why we have stigmas over such things as mental health.

Everyone has a routine that they probably stick to every day such as getting up at six AM, walk the dog, have breakfast go to work and for the person who does that that is their normal routine but it might be abnormal to someone else who would never consider getting up at six AM, believing it to be an abnormal time of the day.  You’ll often hear someone speak of getting up early and the response they get is “What? That’s the middle of the night?!” This person who wouldn’t dream of getting up at six AM might literally roll out of bed half an hour before work, get dressed and leave the house with a piece of toast in their hand to eat while getting the bus to work.  That might be their normal routine but for the person who gets up at six AM to walk the dog, this rushing around routine is abnormal, simply because it is not the same as their normal.

Each and every person has their own thoughts and views on things.  Other people will consider their views on things normal, others won’t.

What I find when I talk to other people who have depression or anxiety disorders is that many of them feel they are not normal.  When I ask them why I get varied answers, they believe they don’t feel like other people, they don’t feel the same as before, they feel that people look at them differently, they feel different from they did before.  When I ask how they felt before they often answer “normal”.

This is a problem.  If you slide on some ice and break your ankle, you feel like you did before (maybe feeling slightly silly!) but for a few weeks you’ll not be able to work and you’ll have a cast on.  When it initially happens you will be seen immediately at the hospital.  Your ankle will be set, you’ll be referred to physios.  You might even get a nice set of crutches to keep you upright while you cope with this change in your well-being.

When you see your friends you’ll laugh and joke about how you fell, they’ll call you Hop-a-long or tease in some other way.  Life will be altered for a few weeks.  You won’t be able to bath or shower as you did before, you’ll maybe need a hand to do certain tasks but in a few weeks your cast comes off, the physio strengthens your ankle and you’re back as you were before.

Then you have someone who goes to their doctor because they’re having panic attacks or they’re in low mood, maybe thinking strange thoughts whatever it is but they know something has changed.  There may be no outward change in them.  They may still smile at the doctor as they sit down, there’s no sign anything is wrong.

The doctor may acknowledge anxiety issues or depression and perhaps start you on a low dose of some medication, give you some tips on managing what you have.  They may sign you off work to give yourself some breathing space.  Everyone will have different experiences of that first trip to the doctors.

So, you try the tablets and they work for a bit.  Then they stop working and the feelings come back again.  You return to your doctor, maybe the dose gets put up.  You explain to your doctor that something isn’t right, even explain the situations that set off a panic attack and your doctor will try to suggest ways of relaxing or removing yourself from that situation.

Even if your doctor refers you to the Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) early it could still be weeks before you get an appointment.  That person with the broken ankle might already have their cast off before you first see your CPN.

While you wait on that appointment coming through you could still be off work or carrying on but things change.  You feel, perhaps, like you don’t matter.  What has happened to you is insignificant in the grand scheme of things and if anyone in the medical profession cared about your illness then you wouldn’t wait for up to fifteen weeks or more.  Fifteen weeks was my worst case scenario.  You’d have that appointment immediately or within a couple of days.

It doesn’t happen like that.  Your doctor gives you tips and websites and ideas about community groups.  It’s not that your doctor doesn’t care, it’s just that their hands are tied.  Once they’ve referred you, your appointment with your CPN is in someone else’s hands.

Everyone, of course has different experiences in the first few weeks of a diagnosis.  Some people can largely get on with things and no one really notices that they’re battling inside.

Other people withdraw.  They don’t go to work, social events, they don’t keep in touch with friends and end up losing them.  A whole variety of things and people looked at them and don’t see the illness because it doesn’t show on the outside.  They just see a person who doesn’t go out any more.  Not why they don’t but just that they don’t.  Of course, not everyone thinks that way.  Many people who suffered from depression or anxiety have friends and family who are supportive but while they have that they can still feel that they are different.  Again, not normal.

I know from personal experience that I can speak to people I meet in the street or even acquaintances and think to myself “why don’t they have it? Why me?”.  Of course, in many cases that person maybe does have diagnosis of depression or anxiety but because it’s still so stigmatised, people don’t talk about it.

If you were out walking your dog and you had a slight limp you might stop and talk to another dog walker who’ll comment on your limp and you might reply you’ve arthritis or you sat too long and your leg is still asleep.  That same person meets another dog owner who clearly hasn’t washed that day and whose hair is greasy but they won’t comment on it.  That person might be desperate to speak about it.  To say that they struggled to get out of bed that morning, never mind have a shower and put on clean clothes.

This is why people with depression and/or anxiety often feel that they are not “normal”.  They are the same person they always were, but they have been diagnosed with an illness that no one seems to want to tackle.  That person who broke their ankle is still the same person but with a broken ankle.  The person with depression is also the same person but with depression.

People will talk all day about the broken ankle but try and sit down with someone who won’t face up to someone having a mental health issue.  It won’t happen.  This is why the stigma must end and why we must push for better initial care for people who are diagnosed with a mental health issue.

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