Things have been going fairly well lately, and I’m beginning to believe that my mood swings are becoming manageable. So in my weekly therapy session I asked “What’s next? There’s no immediate crisis to deal with, or extreme depression or off the chart mania going on, so what do I need to be working on?” To which she simply said, “Embrace the ordinary”.
Embrace the ordinary.
I’m not even sure I can wrap my head around the concept. “Ordinary”, much like “normal” is one of those words that are used as a yardstick to define extremes. “Normal” people don’t get depressed. An “ordinary” life doesn’t have the drama and excitement of mania. Ordinary is normal, and normal is, well, what I’m not.
An ordinary life begins with a happy childhood and strong upbringing. I don’t think that there’s anyone who would say my childhood was happy. I know, very few people would say that theirs was happy either, but mine wasn’t just unhappy; it was miserable. Looking back I can count on one hand how many times I could say I was really happy. I had no friends to speak of. Schoolwork wasn’t hard, but the focus and motivation was. I lacked the nurturing warmth from my parents that could have made my circumstances at least tolerable. I felt like I was always alone.
The teenage years were worse. By then, my illness had fully manifested and I experienced my first major depression at 16. School became a farce and I dropped out, only gaining my diploma later by circumventing the system and sneaking through. College was an option, but one I chose not to exercise. In the height of mania I decided I was already better than any college degree could make me.
Then there came the failed relationships. First one, then two, then three marriages all ended badly. My fourth marriage seemed to be the charm, but in the end it was just as disastrous as the others.
Of course I could go to the other extreme and claim the extraordinary. One of the reasons I had struggled so much in school is that I was intellectually unchallenged and bored silly. I didn’t feel the need to attend college as at 18 I was already making the same amount of money as my father. I enjoyed a meteoric rise in my career, succeeding beyond even my own inflated expectations.
But ordinary? I don’t think so. Especially when you factor in all the crazy ups and downs that has happened along the way. There has been nothing in my life that could possibly qualify as ordinary.
So how do I embrace something I cannot understand?
To me, being ordinary means that it’s okay to have a bad day; that’s all it is, and we can all expect to have them. It means that I can achieve success on my own merit, not because I’m in an over producing mania. I can feel emotions without being overwhelmed. I can be happy with who I am in all things, even if I’m not happy with a particular situation. I can be in a healthy relationship that is based on respect and trust. I can love and be loved; just as I am.
My whole life has been a contradiction to ordinary. I have spent decades in therapy of one kind or another. I’ve been through practically every pharmaceutical combination there is to try to stabilize and maintain my illness. But then the medicines get better. I connect with a terrific therapist. I’m finally able to start putting together all the lessons gained from so many years.
I don’t need to be asking what’s next. My greatest challenge still lies ahead.
I’m learning to be…ordinary.