If you were to meet me in the street, or at a party, or maybe at work, it’s unlikely you’d suspect anything. I’d seem like a bit of a hipster, long hair and beard(ish), maybe a little socially awkward, but outgoing, polite and smiling. I’d shoot the breeze, talk about little things comfortably, and most likely put you at ease.
And it’s quite possible that, at that moment in time, I might feel just like that. ‘Normal.’ Nothing wrong with me, nothing to see here.
But that wouldn’t be the deeper truth. It wouldn’t be reality. Because, of course, I suffer. I suffer from depression, from bipolar, and a chronic lack of belief in myself. And most days, it’s a struggle to find the motivation to get up in the morning, to go to work, and to do the things that are considered just that – ‘normal.’
There are two aspects of this to understand. The first is the obvious one: that people who suffer inside don’t always show it on the outside. I might be miserable, desperate and wanting to crawl into a hole, but I’ll still paint that smile on and interact, because I know how to hide. I know how to fool. There was a period when I didn’t know how to do that, and waaaay back in school everyone knew exactly who – and what – I was. I was the freak, the loner, the outcast; I was the depressed kid who cut himself and hid in the toilets.
In the many years since, I’ve honed the art of the façade to a fine skill, and rarely is there a day when I can’t make you think I’m just simply fine. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel rotten and awful inside, because I usually do. But you’d never know.
But there is a second, more subtle aspect to this duality that I think should be understood better. Sometimes – just sometimes – I really do feel okay. I feel just fine. In fact, sometimes I feel great, like I’m being productive, getting things done and making people happy. I feel like a normal person.
What I think is often misunderstood here is that when someone feels good, it’s usually taken that since that can feel that way, there’s no reason for them not to all the time. After all, there are people in the world who just feel fine every day, who weather the worst with a smile, and find the positive in every scenario.
Sometimes I even fool myself, and this is, of course, dangerous. When I’m in a high, I feel like I can do anything, accomplish anything. I’ll set myself on tasks that are impossible, make promises I can’t keep, and take risks that are far more dangerous than their reward. And sometimes, I feel so good I wonder why take my medication anymore? I clearly don’t need it – I feel fine.
Should I stop taking my medication, of course, I crash; abruptly, destructively and completely. But even if I don’t, the truth is that I can’t maintain that high forever. The period of intensity will end, and I will return to the abyss. Whether I want to or not.
This is the difficulty of ‘normal.’ A lot of people will assume that if I seem normal, I am. And worse, that if I truly feel normal, there’s no excuse for the aberrant behavior that comes with my illnesses. In the end, I can only make it through like one day at a time, and some days are simply going to be better than others.
So please don’t assume that a happy person is happy all the time; don’t think for a moment that there isn’t a raging battle deep inside them. Instead, cherish the moments of positivity that rise from the muck of despair, because they might not come again.