Friday, 6 January 2012

Journeys to 'Normville'

It's a curious thing to anyone who has had encountered Mental Illness to re-establish a connection with what I term as 'Normville' and the 'Norms' who are lucky enough to escape having ever been ill in this way. The fact that just about everyone has ups and downs doesn't seem to figure in it.

Even among close friends who have always been 'Norms' I find there is a reluctance to discuss, communicate or even mention the subject of Mental Illness. That's fine to a point as 'Madville' not a place I would wish anyone to dwell in bu it remains damaging when it bars sufferers from the necessary outlet of expression in order to be able to recover. 'Close' friends? Perhaps not, at least not on this issue as I keep finding I have to bite my tongue and put a hold on my needs in order for a 'Norm' to feel comfortable. The question is, do they do the same for me? Maybe, maybe not. I suspect if I were to ask, they'd say yes and even there lies a difficulty. They are not always right to do so. Tricky for all concerned, isn't it?

In other ways 'Norms' can be close though. They can be close by being inspiring, encouraging and showing an interest the things I do in other areas of my life and most of all by acknowledging my achievements not despite having been mentally ill, but just because I worked at them in the same way that any 'normal' person does. It's possible that this statement isn't a true one though. Can we ever separate ourselves from the experiences that make us who we are? As outlined before, mental illness is as much an experience as any other.

Strange are the habits of the 'Norms' or so it seems to me, and it occurs to me that the onus is very much on the sufferers of mental illness to out-norm the 'Norms'. We have to learn and adopt a far more sanguine attitude to life, relationships, pressure, stress and change than even they are capable of in order to be able to stand a chance of being accepted in their world again. Frankly there are times when I'd rather not be associated with 'Normville', but nor do I want to be a part of 'Madville' again. Just be, is the only viable answer and leave it to others to work it out.

Habits of the 'Norms' include becoming jealous of friends who become friends with their friends as if there is an ownership of any and all friends any of us make. 'Norms' often feel betrayed if they feel their friends are getting on better without them being present. Friendship is regarded as something that comes intact with undivided loyalty attached which is an unreasonable assumption to make. No two people can ever be expected to agree on absolutely everything all the time, nor to share identical interests, opinions and ambitions. It's alarming how many relationships I've witnessed where a minor difference of opinion has resulted in a total collapse of what would otherwise be regarded as a brilliant and mutually rewarding relationship.

It's as if relationships come with a set of unwritten and unsigned for 'Terms and Conditions' that simply never get discussed. Breaking those 'Terms and Conditions' means the bond will be irrevocably broken. The trust is lost; the loyalty rubbished and consigned to oblivion, never to be mentioned again.

Through a multitude of mental healthcare services, but particularly through talking therapies, sufferers of mental illness learn how to stand back to put things into perspective. A crass and insensitive statement can become something to laugh about instead of something to break contact with another over.

Instead of counting the number of injuries, insults and offences against us, we learn to appreciate, focus on and value the compliments, the interest and the encouragements. So much so in fact that I am now of a mind to advocate that all people undergo such therapy.

It should be born in mind that it is actually quite an achievement for two people to be 'in-tune' with one another for any length of time so why are so many worthwhile relationships so easily dismissed over as little a thing as 'so and so, didn't give me a hug.' Perhaps that person wasn't in the best of moods that day and had their mind on other things which had nothing to do with you, but on another day they might long for a hug. Remember, all feelings are transient unless we put inordinate amounts of time and effort into feeding them. They will pass of their own accord so long as we allow room for new, positive experiences to enter our lives.

In some forms of counselling you may hear about a term called 'transference'. This is an all to common behavioural pattern among all human beings. 'Transference' is the practice of attributing what one person feels to others instead of taking ownership of their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. E.g. "You are always picking fault with me." In fact, it is more likely that they are the ones who are constantly picking fault with you. Watch out for transference statements of this kind as they will tell you far more about the person who makes them than they will about what they feel about you. Transference is often a symptom of a mind that is striving to over analyse.

When one is mentally ill, you really are being analysed for any nugget, strand of logic, interest and insight on what will help you get better. In my opinion, 'Norms' really shouldn't even attempt to play on the analytical playing field when sufferers of mental illness are so well acquainted with this game that they could write a book on it. As a result of so much in depth analysis and therapy a mental health sufferer who has recovered has all the potential for having the healthiest of mindsets as they become aware of a multitude of pitfalls and learn coping strategies to avoid them.

On these simple examples alone, it seems that not only is 'Normville' not all that it's cracked up to be, but that in truth it is the stuff (and belongs) to the realms of myth and legend. The 'Norms' are merely a form of potential fellow mental health sufferer when all is said and done. Up to them entirely what pickles and scrapes they get themselves into, up to them if they choose to ignore the warning signs of their own behaviours. A sad thought, when one considers that once upon a time I too was as blase and complacent.

Finally, here's a thank-you letter to an acquaintance of mine that you might know. Not exactly a friend but...

Dear Mental Illness

Thank you for showing me the difference between what's important and what isn't. Thank you for making me aware of the needs of others and myself. Thank-you for ensuring that I went on a journey of self-discovery and self awareness for my life is all the richer for it. I can't say I liked, welcomed or enjoyed your company, but I am grateful for the wisdom, experience and development it led to.

Without your traumatic, horrific and miserable presence in my life I would not have learned to appreciate the better things in life; I would not have learned real joy, happiness or contentment for when you have been starved of such things it makes you appreciate them all the more on the rare occasions that they come to visit. It helped me to go in search of how to retain and maintain them in my life. No one who has not experienced despair can value them half so highly.

I would not wish you to accompany anyone (myself included) ever again, but know it is your habit to visit those who are persecuted, bullied, tortured and bereaved. I can only wish that my best friend Hope shadows you everywhere you go to compensate and endure far beyond the worst you can think up.

Thanks again... it was educational but if there is ever a way for you to teach these things in a pleasanter fashion I would take it if I were you. If you need instructions on how to then I suggest you refer yourself for counselling!

Yours sincerely

Wilde Woman

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