"Normal" - How Familiar With It Are You?

Patient Expert

As many of you following this blog know, I am working on a series of short books on bipolar. The first one focuses on our moods. One of the things that jumped out and hit me is the attention I am giving to “normal.”

“Normal” has a number of meanings. Let’s explore …

“Normal” is an episode, in the same manner that depression and mania are episodes …

If we view bipolar as a cycling illness, then “normal” represents those lucid intervals in between our mood states. In this sense, “normal” is an integral part of our illness.

Incorporating “normal” into the equation encourages us to anticipate what is likely to happen next in the cycle, and to prepare accordingly. This was pretty much Emil Kraepelin's approach when he published his classic Manic-Depressive Insanity back in 1921.

Your “normal” is different from other people’s version of normal …

“Normal” is highly subjective. My normal may not accord with yours. And neither of our normals are likely to accord with society’s - or your clinician’s - expectations. This raises a host of issues involving being true to ourselves on one hand and having to fit in with the “normal” majority on the other.

“Normal” is something of a Zen riddle …

The riddle: If you successfully manage your bipolar, are you truly bipolar?

“Successful” patients face this all the time. The assumption is that individuals with good outcomes at most have only a mild version of the illness, that they never suffered, never face daily challenges. This, of course, is patently false.

Normal bleeds over into personality and temperament …

Back in 1921, Kraepelin observed that state arises out of trait. In essence, those with depressive temperaments are more likely to experience depressed moods. Same with manic temperaments and manic moods. Research by Hagop Akiskal of UCSD provides support to Kraepelin.

Temperament is an inherited personality trait that remains fairly constant throughout our lives. Thus, your “normal” may be mildly depressed or exuberant. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

Your “normal” may be someone else’s pathology …

Another way of stating this is that your exuberance may be someone else’s hypomania, or that your thinking deep may be someone else’s depression.

Only when we veer outside of our true “normal” can we be regarded as actually experiencing a mood episode. This holds true regardless of our symptoms.

By the same token, even in “normal,” we need to be observant.

You're far more normal than you think you are ...

Don't get duped by society. "Eccentric" and even "weird" can be very healthy behaviors.

“Normal” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be …

No one has ever said: “You’re in for a treat. We are going to meet some normal people.” Normal is a mean, a statistical average. It also implies compliance to a constricting and soul-destroying norm.

Bottom line: Your pursuit of happiness is your own choice.

To conclude …

Our recovery depends in large part on gaining insight into our own true “normal” - where we are now, and where we want to be the next day and the next year.

Don’t settle for someone else’s version of normal. You are who you are. Know thyself, live well …

Further reading ...

Temperament

How Personality Traits Affect Mood Disorders