I submerged myself long enough for my chest to tighten and my heartbeat to quicken. It resounded off the porcelain sides and into my ears, throat and wrists. When I rose back out of the water, I opened my eyes to Dee sat cross legged on the toilet seat. I stared at her but had nothing to say. Maybe it was because, all of a sudden, she looked happy. Gone were the supermarket tears and shaky hands. She was wearing a broad smile and glistening eyes.
‘How about you let me take care of you tonight.’ Dee said. ‘To make up for the fact we only have sweets in the cupboard and nothing else.’
I smiled, she was right. There was only so long we were going to survive on strawberry laces and Oreo biscuits. She took my smile as consent and hopped nimbly from the toilet seat. She emptied the toothbrush pot and washed it out with cold water.
‘Close your eyes and tip your head back.’ Dee instructed.
– from Dee, a novel in progress
Driving home on a Wednesday afternoon, listening to BBC Radio 4 (because I’m old before my time) and on came a podcast called ‘All in the Mind’. From what I could gather, the podcast talks all things mental. The episode in question ranged from interviewing a mother and daughter to discussing a study which suggested giving blood for altruistic reasons helped you feel less pain when the needle went in. I was interested in the interview.
The mother was a psychiatrist and the interviewer was interested in how she coped with the breakdown of her own daughter. Did being a specialist of the mind help at all?
The daughter experienced depression and anxiety in a similar situation to me: she was at university away from home and one night was so afraid she called her mother. I did too and will thank the stars for as long as I live that my mother put down the phone and drove 2 hours late at night to be beside me. The mother on the radio had the same reaction: her daughter came home and instead of being the psychiatrist, she was Mum. She nurtured her – she let her sleep, have the pets on the bed and simply slow down.
Again, I did the same. I moved back home and completed my degree travelling six hours a day via train but found it far easier than being away from home. Mum was Mum. She nurtured me – I slept, I cried, I panicked and I watched QVC every night until I fell asleep. I slowed down.
But, this episode of All in the Mind did more than validate my own experience with depression. It did more than remind me I wasn’t alone. It reminded me I’m still not alone as I try to be normal – to find a normal severed from the low points I’ve fell into.
When asked ‘How long did it take you to recover?’, the daughter on the radio, like the young woman in the car, admitted that she never truly will. Her experience is a part of her now – sometimes she thinks about it, even talks about it, she never denies it happened – and that’s okay. Healing is not linear. Healing is not a permanent state of being. We must feel sadness to appreciate joy. We must feel grief to appreciate all we had. Love cannot thrive without pain.
And so, since then I’ve thought about the phrase ‘being normal’ differently. Normal is what you define it to be. Normal now for me is knowing my limits, knowing how quickly I can trick myself into sadness, knowing what I must fight and what I must relinquish. Normal is slowing down sometimes.
Too often we separate mental and physical health when we shouldn’t. A broken leg may heal in months but the bone is now weaker than it was before. The healing process is longer than the number we assign to it. And it should be okay for us to take years to ‘recover’, to find our normal rather than return to what we once believed was normal.
Being normal is what you make it.