The Five Faces of "Normal"

John McManamy | Jan 13th 2016

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Chances are, you have a clear picture of “normal” in head. But are you sure it’s an accurate representation? There are at least five ways of looking at normal. Let’s investigate …

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Those lucid intervals between mood episodes

This is the standard operating version of “normal.” Not depressed, not manic, free of symptoms. But is this truly what we are aiming for? For many people, this type of “normal” is not their true normal. For instance, we need to consider …

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Exuberant behavior that is not necessarily hypomanic

Exuberance is a personality “trait” (and therefore normal), not (an abnormal) mood state. This distinction is often lost on our clinicians and loved ones, who tend to distrust any form of “up.”

Granted, these individuals are genuinely interested in our recovery, but too often they want us to be normal versions of someone else. Our goal, instead, is to be functional versions of our true normal selves.

Related to this is …

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Thinking deep behavior that may include mild depression

Experts are in general agreement that many of us  have depressive temperaments that manifest as chronic mild depression. Part of this involves thinking deep, which may be advantageous.

Sure, no one longs to be depressed, but the cure is not necessarily “normal,” particularly when one’s true normal may involve mild depression.

Again, our goal is to be functional versions of our normal selves.

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Not necessarily a safe harbor

It’s not enough to assume that once we make depression and mania go away, everything is going to be OK.

Even when not experiencing an episode, residual symptoms are common, normal even. Throw a little anxiety into the mix and one result is that we feel uncomfortable inside our own skins.

Add trauma, stress, and personality issues to the mix, and “normal” may prove extremely frightening.

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Hardly an ideal

You might say “normal” is highly overrated. One 1960s study on a normal population found these individuals depressingly uninspiring. In contrast, the 1997 Apple Ad, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones,” celebrates the decidedly not normal in our midst – the Einsteins, the Martin Luther Kings, and so on.

In other words, “crazy” can be good, but there is a catch …

A word of caution …

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A word of caution …

A 2011 study on a large Swedish population found a link between bipolar and creativity, but the true beneficiaries were the first-degree relatives. They hit the genetic jackpot – enviably creative without the drawbacks of bipolar.

Basically, north of normal and south of bipolar is what a good many of us are aiming for.

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Another word of caution …

Way back in 1921, Emil Kraepelin observed that depressive “states” can arise from depressive “traits.” Likewise for manic states and traits.

In other words, there is a clear overlap between personality and mood, each exerting a sort of gravitational pull on the other.

Translation: Whether exuberant or thinking deep, we always need to be mindful of a potential escalation into mania or severe depression.

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Know thyself

Again, our goal is to be functional versions of our normal selves. But finding out who we truly are involves rigorous self-enquiry. Our clinicians aren’t going to figure this out for us. You need to become your own expert.

NEXT: 5 Rules for Bipolar Relationships