Not Normal (otherwise known as Mothering with Mental Illness)
I am Not Normal. That’s the truth I’ve been running from for years.
And it hurts.
If I’d known then, what I know now, I wouldn’t have had three children.
There, there’s the rub. Wouldn’t have had those three sweet creatures. Wouldn’t have imposed myself on them as their mother. If I had known that in fact I was Not Normal.
(Woah there, don’t even start with your anodyne “but who is normal?” comments… I am venting, so hear me out! It’s kinda fun! No need to make me feel better or sprinkle fairy dust on me here.)
If I’d have known that what I thought were my grumpiness and moodiness and irrational ability to freak out at everything were actually the co-morbid triplets of bipolar, anxiety and migraines, and they were lifelong, I would not have chosen to be a mother.
Because motherhood for the normal is hard. It is long. Relentless. It requires energy and patience and the ability to at least try to love unconditionally.
But when you’re Not Normal… it’s one fuck load harder. Promise!
It requires hormonal upheaval which triggers episodes. It causes massive sleep deprivation which trigger episodes. It requires consistency. It requires that you put the care of another at or above the care you give yourself. And when there are three others, and you have a lot of your own needs….
It sucks. And you fuck up a lot.
You know what, I feel angry. And let down. That no doctor, despite me mentioning every time I was asked about family histories, ever picked up on it. Never. That the midwife, when I tried admitting, which took great courage, how shaken I was feeling during pregnancy and after birth, despite knowing my history, told me to pull my golden cloak round me.
MY FUCKING GOLDEN CLOAK WOMAN?! There’s something seriously wrong with me, this is Not Normal and you’re talking about golden fucking cloaks. It took me over a year to get up the courage to tell another medical professional that I really wasn’t coping. A year of serious, serious struggling. And the medicine he gave me took me to a whole other wacky level of Not Normal – so once again I was alone with it. Story. Of. My. Life.
I don’t feel like sharing events. But there were events during pregnancy and post partum that should have been red flags to the medical establishment. Episodes which were Not Normal. They would have been flags to anyone who knows about these things. But I didn’t, and my husband and family didn’t. And so we muddled on. Me, and him in our own secret world. Well my secret world of normal make believe – I’m a trained actress, you know. Occasionally I had to let him into quite how Not Normal things were. I’m sure at times he thought I was nuts… and I was! Its just no one else fucking realised.
I always thought I just needed to cop myself on. To pull myself together. BE NORMAL is my mantra. I study normal people. Do what they do around the edges of my life as a subterfuge. All the time beating myself up internally for not being able to do this Normal thing well enough to make it real for myself, the way everyone else can. I beat myself up for being over-emotional, over-dramatic, feeling too much, being hormonal. In short being overwhelmed, and not coping a lot of the time.
Normal = being able to cope with reality.
Most of the time I can’t….
Though someone fucking clever, and NOT Normal, once said, let me mangle it nicely for you, that “It’s a sign of mental illness, not mental health to be well-adjusted to a sick world.” I agree. But the Men in White Coats and School Teachers and Tax Inspectors do not. They are the Arbiters of Normal – they are not my folk! I hang with the artists, hippies, dreamers, poets, dancers, mad ones and earth mothers. We dig Not Normal in all sorts of funky ways.
Not coping with Normal does my nut. I really want to cope. I want to be stable and Normal and reliable to the rest of the world, but really for my kids. I REALLY hate that I’m not. REALLY. It cuts me up so bad.
And please don’t give me the “but you’re such a good mum, your kids are lucky to have you” bollocks. Yes, I’m better than someone who’s struggling with addiction, someone who’s sexually or physically abusing their kids. But that’s quite a low bar really for a perfectionist. I am irritable, regularly too tired to do anything, get anxious doing the weekly shop, struggle having their friends over for playdates, struggle socialising with all but my immediate close circle, our house is in chaos, I tend to freak out at birthdays and Christmas, I’m always sick, I can shout and scream, am always distracted. Sure I can be fun, do creative stuff together and am affectionate. But really, they have quite a bum deal. And so do I. It’s hard enough being like this, feeling like this, but then feeling guilty about the impact that this has on others. That triples sucks. Specially when you super love those people. I have experienced this from both sides now. I know how it sucks both ways. Yup, woo-hoo I’d like to receive my Buddha certification, I’ve passed my test in General Compassion and can bugger off to hippie heaven.
But instead I’m still here, making amends for recent crappy behaviour, pulling myself through cups of tea that I’ve been avoiding, trying to focus on school uniforms, and brushing teeth, and stacking dishwashers.
When really I don’t give a flying fuck about any of it and would much prefer to be in my own little bubble with a book, Pinterest, a pen and some paper. All the time.
I struggle with how much they need from me still, and can just see how many more years into the future it stretches. As I said… if I knew then, what I do now I would have made very different decisions. But that’s the thing about having kids. You can’t really make decisions afterwards, except ones that cut like a knife, and so you’re stuck struggling. Knowing you want better for them. Knowing you can’t deliver. Knowing that most of the time your crapness is better than nothing. Yes what a heartening thought – my crap presence is, 95% of the time better than my total absence. Cheering! But I love them and I wish them a perfectly Normal mother. I wish them the mother I wanted to be, I thought I was going to be when I started sprogging.
I feel angry, and sad. Sad for me, for my husband, and most of all for my kids, who really don’t deserve to have to differentiate what is really me and what is my illness. I have tried to explain it in simple terms, what this illness is, what my true feelings for them are. I try regularly. It tends to garner blank looks or be brushed off. My Not Normal is Normal for them! That makes me sad… and happy. But with the added awareness that Not Normal passes down families and a sneaking suspicion of the reality that it has, I try to model openness and honesty in the face of this hugeness within which I live. It comes out as a strange mix of apologies, snot and fake blasé matter-of-factness.
But now at least I know, when I see others enjoying motherhood, blooming during pregnancy, doing OK to keep house, that YES, actually there IS something wrong with me. I’m officially Not Normal. Any of the Arbiters of Normal could prove that to you. I just keep my head down and out of sight so they can’t. Arbiters of Normal can be malicious fuckers to the Not Normalers of this world.
It’s a kind of dance we do. We know we’re Not Normal, and so do they. But as long as our Not Normalness is still within the realms of Normalness they’ll leave us alone. So we learn to do a good show of Normal 101 to avoid detention, drugs, scalpels, shocks and separations.
And meanwhile daily life continues as it always does. Have kids, try to be Normal. Hate being normal. Can’t do Normal. Feel like you’re a crap mum. Repeat ad infinitum. Have good day. Believe it is your new Normal. YOU can do… Oh, no. actually you can’t.
See you in the introverted artist area in the red tent at the hippie festival of dreams, far from the unsuspecting eyes of the Arbiters! I’m the one with the flouncy skirt curled up with a book. Looking most definitely Not Normal – a fact which I’ve always secretly enjoyed about myself!