Normal can be comforting.
If we think we are odd, to be told that this is normal, this feeling (if we believe it) can be comforting. It is good sometimes to discover we are not “odd”.
In a session, it can be difficult to not say to a patient, this is normal, that is a normal reaction, your feelings are perfectly normal.
It is true.
Sometimes it is not what the patient wants to hear. A lot of times, mostly because they do not feel this is the case.
Sometimes because they want to feel that they are not normal.
Or how could there be a “normal” reaction or behaviour, response or feeling, for what they went through?
I have a new patient. I met her in the hospital yesterday, we spent a lot of time together. Her sixth attempt to end things was just thwarted, barely, she has slipped through the cracks in the “system”. This happens all too often. Not receiving help after her previous attempts, filing some of those attempts away as acting out or seeking attention.
This too, can be “normal”. Sad as it is.
Oh some of it can be her fault, not showing up for appointments, lying when asked how she was. This too is a “normal” answer though. When severely depressed and asked how you are. The answers fine, ok, doing well… jump out.
So the wide cracks let her drop through, time and time again. I was asked to take her on, to stuff those cracks tight so she does not slip through any more. I spent a good amount of time with her yesterday. She is of course angry. bitter, sad. confused. She has been through this before, why bother. She has sought help in the past and it eluded her.
This is partially the stigma associated with mental health, but also the desire not to draw attention, not to burden, this is also “normal”.
When depression, or anxiety, hallucinations, voices…. exist for so long, they become… normal.
That everyone does not hear, feel, experience some of these things is obvious. The feeling of being “odd” contributes to isolation.
Group therapy is beneficial in this regard. If you are in the right group, matched up with others that perhaps are feeling, hearing, suffering the same way that you are… you discover that you are not odd. There are others that are like you.
Blogging too points this out.
It helps even more, when you listen to these people and discover that their depression has lessened, or left. The voices are gone, the hallucinations also. but you meet people that know, that feel or felt as you do, they understand, that there too, is hope. normal.
In therapy, as you explore and things come out, they or your response to them may be normal. You may become annoyed that your therapist tells you this. But we don’t come with a users manual that covers every experience, every emotion. We may feel our reactions to something is not normal, we are indeed odd. The way we respond to something in our past, our feelings toward it may involve guilt, shame, sadness fear. We may feel this response is not “normal”
Often, with trauma, we feel guilt, that we were in some way responsible for what happened, or contributed to it, we may feel guilt or shame that it happened to us. Dirty. Self esteem is low, often because of this. It is hard to feel that this response is normal.
Part of therapy is to become comfortable with ones past, to feel safe in the now and the future. To be comfortable with ones reactions to their past trauma. Not to say it was acceptable. Just to feel safe now, it is in the past.
When talking with her, listening to her, the urge to tell her that is normal… kept trying to pop out. She is not acting out, not seeking attention. Depression is real you can’t just “suck it up” when a panic attack overwhelms you, you can not just… “not worry” because someone says … not to.
So instead of telling her this is normal, I asked questions, she realized they were following a trend, a direction they were not random, that I knew the answers before I asked. Perhaps I knew what she was feeling, experiencing, perhaps she was not “odd”
perhaps there was hope?
She is going to give me a chance.
But what is “normal”?
This is of course open to interpretation, but with the saying… that is normal, it implies that this is a normal reaction, a normal response. Perhaps it is more “I have seen this before”, but in this situation, that makes it somewhat normal.
Feeling normal is what we want, reacting normally, acting normally.
If we have never thought we were normal though or felt normal, how do we know when/if we are normal?
Some struggle to explore their past, to dig out torments, but struggle because they are hidden, forgotten, fading memories.
As time goes on though, we all forget our past. We remember glimpses, more if we have reminders, triggers, or keep rehashing it keeping the memories alive or stronger. For the most part though, most memories fade. Even trauma, sadness, grief. they fade. We remember but the memories are not as strong, the feelings that were so powerful at the time, they fade too. Some memories create triggers that may instill depression or anxiety or fear without actually knowing why. We don’t necessarily have to exhume the memory to know what causes it, but to deal with the now, to overcome the trigger. Because no matter how hard you try, you may never connect with the memory, may never be able to recall it in clarity. This is “normal”. We forget, we are not machines. No manuals, no diagnostic ports, no rebooting.
There are other “normal’s” I want to talk about in the future, attachments, concealment, the urge to please, the list is endless. It is good to know though, if others feel or act this way, maybe I am normal, it can be comforting.