As I gathered my purse and keys and starting to get up from the couch, I asked, “I need to know something. What, exactly, is the goal here? Like, what are we aiming for?”
My psychiatrist looked up at me from over his glasses, where he was writing the last of several prescriptions, and asked his favorite question of all: “What does that mean?”
I paused. Even though I always expect that question, it always seems to catch me off-guard.
“Well…I mean, how will we know we’ve reached the goal? Are we aiming for me to be ‘normal’, or to still feel all of this stuff and just be able to function, or…what?”
He pushed back from his desk and we both stood up.
“Well…I’d like to get you to normal. That’s my goal, at least.”
I nodded…we said the nice things you say when leaving a doctor’s appointment…marked my calendar for another visit three months away…and went to my car. Once there, my ears finally heard what he had said.
“I’d like to get you to normal.”
A pit began welling in my stomach and before I knew why, tears were streaming down my face. I turned the keys but didn’t put the car in gear. I kept crying as I stared at the drab brick building in front of me.
Normal? I thought. I’m not even sure I know what that means…
That was an unsettling realization. “Normal” is what everyone wants. During the holidays…after an illness…when jobs shift…and now, especially, when the pandemic is over.
“When things get back to normal…”
“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”
But how do we move forward when we don’t know our target? How can I reach for normal when I don’t even know what I’m looking for? Will I even know it when I see it?
At my next appointment, I told my doctor how unsettling the realization had been. His words?
“You’ve lost sight of normal.”
And yeah. I may have lost sight of normal…but I think I’ve also lost sight of myself. Because if I don’t know what my normal is, do I know who I am? And not just who I am…but who I am, really, at my deepest core?
Having an abstract view of normalcy is one thing, but having an abstract view of identity? That’s another thing entirely.
In the weeks since this revelation first hit me like a Mack truck carrying a ton of bricks, I’ve had to do some soul-searching. Literally. Because to figure out normal and to find out myself, I have to dig to the deepest parts of my soul. And to dig to that place, I have to dig into the deepest parts of God.
Because when it comes down to it, if I can’t see God clearly, I’ll never see myself clearly.
A steam-fogged mirror after a shower blinds me to the image of myself that I know is there. If I’m not careful, my mental illness can become the fog on the mirror. I know I’m there…but I see only a distorted image.
So I’ve had to wipe the mirror clear. To do all I can to see myself through God’s eyes rather than through a mirror distorted by mental illness. I can’t wipe my life clear of the illness, but I can stop allowing it to define me. And if I stop defining myself by my illness, I may find the normal I was created to live.
And who knows? Maybe normal is extraordinary.
Right here with you,