Christine Duncan

Precepts & Life Preservers

The Normal That Eludes You

A post for anyone who wished for a new normal...

Normal.

It alludes me.

And not just because I can only drink chocolate milk from a glass as opposed to plastic, or because I can’t stand the song Patio Lanterns, or because I grew up thinking musical pork chops was a real game.

And now you’re dying to hear about that last one, aren’t you?

But because when you learn to live with a mood disorder that wants to turn what’s considered normal upside down, or erase how you’ve always defined normal all together, you figure out pretty quickly how to shed all expectation and get down to the business of recognizing what your normal might have to look like from here on out.

In fact, can we decide right now that normal is overrated? Or that it doesn’t even really exist?

Normal is so 1980’s, am I right?

What is your normal for now? I ask because everyone’s is different. And I wish someone had told my younger dysthymic self this ages before my diagnosis when I assumed everyone else had a normal to be envious of. Funny how your own diagnosis can emphasize just how different someone’s normal might be and you wouldn’t know to look at them.

I can tell you that my chronic depression, this disorder, has made it abundantly clear to me each day not to judge someone else’s ‘normal’ until you hear them pour out their personal story.

Don't assume you know someone else's normal until you hear them pour out their story... Click To Tweet

One friend’s normal means pursuing life with two artificial limbs. When she tells me about the things she faces regularly I’m in awe.

Another acquaintance lives with the daily knowledge that she may never see her overseas family in this lifetime.

That neighbour with the awesome looking life might be fighting cancer for the fourth time.

That guy in the business suit in the grocery store line buying salad might be going home to another day fighting against his addiction to gambling.

People overcoming, and living with, and navigating messy hard things. That’s the normal I’m seeing more and more.

The other day, a reader asked me to elaborate on what I meant by “my” normal and what it looks like right now within my dysthymia. And I thought this would be a good place to do that… what IS my normal for now?

  1. My normal requires rest. I have learned very quickly that I must allow for pockets of time where I can decompress on every level, on a constant basis. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally. It requires me to pay attention to how much I allow into my day, and if a certain day looks like it might fill up (and my version of fill up and yours are very different I can assure you), I handle all the stresses that all that activity might produce with the understanding that I flank a heavy day with a day of complete rest. Which leads quickly to the second item of what my normal is.
  2. My normal is filled with healthy no’s. My dysthymia and anxiety disorder sets in the minute I think I can do all the things. Much more so than for someone who is mentally healthy. Someone else might plow through, take on extra things because why not, it’s nice to be reliable. Drink a Red Bull and keep moving. But I have come to understand that too many things to juggle means my brain will eventually find a way to shut down and refuse to deal. And then the depressive spiral and anxiety starts. And then I’m in bed for a week in the dark wondering if I’ll ever make it out. So I am deliberate about pacing my activities and responsibilities and saying no on a regular basis. And this brings us to the next item….
  3. My normal has no room for shame. People love to hint that they’re the hardest workers ever, no one can out-work them. Know anyone like that? Bragging about how tired they are, it’s easy to feel shame over the fact that your own normal isn’t that keyed up as well. But shame can trigger depressive episodes so fast, so I work hard to eliminate shame and kick it to the curb. There’s no place for shame here. I have to listen to God’s voice that I’m cherished just the way I am, and if I have to go through life careful and deliberate with the things I have to say no to so that I stay mentally healthy for myself, my family, and the things I do say yes to, then so be it.
  4. My normal leaves room for forgiveness. I might say yes to something on a good day or start a new routine, and then when a dysthymic day hits, routines and good intentions are out the window. I have learned to forgive myself when something might be a day late, can’t respond to a missive right away, or have to figure out an easier way. My brain suddenly is overwhelmed by the slightest thing, anxiety suddenly blossoms over something trivial, and I used to beat myself up about it so bad, friends. These days, it’s all grace. I have to allow for grace, humour, and forgive myself when I think I’m failing. And allowing for those things may sound normal for the mentally healthy but if I don’t find room for them with the Holy Spirit’s help (because let’s face it, the depression makes it hard to feel those things), the other option is it all becoming one giant depressive trigger that will disable me on every level in a bad way.
  5. My normal is found in His Presence. God IS my rock and firm foundation on which I can reliably build my life on, chronic D or no. And I don’t live in fear because He has proven He is with me. This is non-negotiable. His presence supplies my normal. His strength for when I can’t continue. His peace when anxiety threatens everything. His grace when I’m in desperate need. His Spirit when it feels like I need room to breathe. My Life Preserver when the ocean of despair and disability threatens to consume and drown. My norm is holding onto Him for life.

The roller coaster of a mood disorder is hard to live with. But I would rather live with it, than suffer with it, and I know that sounds like semantics but I’m being truthful. Living with it requires me to get to know the ins and outs of the roller coaster and adjust accordingly. Suffering through it is more like not taking any action and never finding ways to adjust.

I would rather live than suffer, wouldn’t you?

These are just some of the ways I understand my life with a disorder like chronic D. At some point there will be medicinal help, or therapy. I have this huge community of faith writers who love to come alongside and be whatever support is needed. If you need a community of support, there are no end of really great tribes of people online looking for others just like them.

But whatever we do, let’s not get stuck wishing we had someone else’s normal, okay? He’s busy weaving and orchestrating something powerful into your journey and you just need to allow Him to preserve your life, as the Psalmist David once said.

As long as our normals include the Life Preserver, things really will be okay.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Have you ever struggled with wishing things felt more “normal”? What has God revealed to you about His plans for you?

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Today is a linkup day! Will you join me over at Jennifer Dukes Lee’s #TellHisStory Linkup for all the goodness?! Just click on the hashtag, we’d love to have you!

18 Comments

  1. Oh my friend… there is so much truth packed in to this post! Thank you. Thank you for being brave and honest and for reminding us all that we all have our own ‘normal’ and oh my goodness, I can see how you have used your hard won lessons to set healthy boundaries and expectations and oh how we would all benefit if we would learn to do the same!

    • Christine Duncan

      June 14, 2016 at 8:07 PM

      Aw, Karrilee, thanks so much for your lovely words, and being such an encourager, a cheerleader! Some days are so much harder than others to follow through on what is needed. But He is our everything when nothing else is right. I hold tight to that!!! I know you do too! xxoo

  2. Such wisdom and insight here friend. Your words prove that you’ve processed and sought guidance – clearly at the feet of Jesus. Normal is entirely overrated and every time I try to establish it for myself, I find myself just trying to rewrite it again. Living – yes! Not bowing to shame or unrealistic expectations, but living one foot in front of another and arms wide open to God. Love you, sister – every part of perfectly imperfect you.

    • Christine Duncan

      June 14, 2016 at 8:28 PM

      Ah, thanks, Tiffany! I’m so blessed by this whole tribe of sister-warriors who lift each other up. Praying that others feel the same as you, that normal is overrated and not the ideal we think it is, and that God takes all our imperfections and smoothes them over with His perfect presence alone! Love you, gurl!!!

  3. Ah Christine, Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your normal!

    • Christine Duncan

      June 14, 2016 at 8:29 PM

      Thank you, Jessica, for your kind and timely encouragement today! Supplied when I needed it most 😉

  4. Yes, no room for shame! That’s been my hardest lesson. And boo to those who brag of being so tired lol. I was just writing about being less than perfect myself (again) today. 😉 So glad we’re friends!

    • Christine Duncan

      June 14, 2016 at 10:42 PM

      Oh, I need to go read your words, girl. I’m so grateful for your friendship. Orchestrated by Him because we dare to write the hard and the life things! I’m thankful for a God who will not waver but will be our anchor through every stage of our journeys and normals. Hugs, hugs!!!

  5. Hello Christine,

    You have disclosed the reality in this post. You did a great job. I really appreciate it. It is my first visit at your blog but now I will be the regular visitor.

    ~Dr. Diana

    • Christine Duncan

      June 15, 2016 at 10:39 AM

      Oh wow, thanks for visiting Diana! That’s so encouraging when new visitors to the blog reach out and respond to a post. My hope is that others will know they’re not alone in this, and that it’s a good time to shine a light on what a battle mental health can look like. And I know for some, they don’t have a faith to fall back on, and others in the faith who don’t understand the science of it all… but good discussion and good disclosure are the starting point!
      Thanks again for visiting. If you’d like to read more, I like to suggest to new readers to enter the words depression or dysthymia or faith into the blog’s search engine as well 🙂

  6. Oh, Christine … I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you’ve written here. It’s so easy to think everyone else’s normal is better, but you’re right … you just never know what’s going on behind closed doors or in someone else’s head or body. I think what I love the most about this post is how hopeful it is. In explaining how you’ve structured and adjusted your life and perspectives, you’re showing me that it is possible to live an abundant life in the midst of the hard. I read what you’ve written and I think, “If she can do that, I can do this.” And it’s all because of No. 5, which is so powerful I want to shout it from the rooftops!

    • Christine Duncan

      June 15, 2016 at 10:48 AM

      Your comment makes my heart soar, Lois, that is exactly the response I prayed for as I hit “publish”! And it’s so easy to make exceptions for those with a physical handicap, but when it comes to the invisible things that ail us, we assume it’s business as usual, and we don’t allow room for the same kind of care, instead we plod and struggle. I believe that this is why so many give up. No one has told them that they deserve the same care-filled considerations.
      This is why I had to post this. And I’m so glad it spoke to you. We’re never alone.
      And yes, it’s all about #5 😉 All the time. Even when my own brain would try to have me forget, lol.
      Hugs and blessings, girl!!! Thankful for you, so much!

  7. Been reading my journal again, haven’t you? In exhaustion I wrote these very words the other night: “I wish I had normal problems.” Christine, your words here are gold to me. Or rather, iron. Sharpening the part of me that is rebelliously clinging to the idea of normalcy and jealously pouting that I can’t call it my own. Thank you, thank you, dear friend for aptly speaking this. Praying you are resting now : )

    PS: Fun game: months from now, I’ve got a series I’m prepping and there is a post spurred by the very struggle you address here. You win all the points if you can spot it!!

    • Christine Duncan

      June 15, 2016 at 11:48 AM

      lol… I promise I haven’t been inside your journal… but God is uncanny that way, isn’t He? I’m so thankful that these words were what you needed, that He orchestrated this! I’m looking at a whole summer of rest and play, made it my priority so that I’m ready to go in the fall.
      Grateful for your encouragement, Bethany, really am. And yes, will be keeping an eye out for that series!!!

  8. I so appreciate this post, and your 5 points about “normal.” I do not suffer chronic depression, but I have gone through a year of more than usual trials (we’re not talking about little irritations, we’re talking TRIALS) and I’ve found how much better I do with adequate rest. There have been days when I just park myself into bed early because I know I need it to be prepared for the next day. Thank you.

  9. As always, very well thought out and written Christine. There is so much truth here. It’s so hard not to compare, isn’t it? God has given us each a different path and therefore a different definition of “normal”. Thanks for sharing and keep writing!

  10. Blughhhh to shame, which I let speak so loudly to me everyday for years….and held it all in!!! I am so thankful for your honesty here. My husband and I were just talking about how we always feel like the oddballs out but that it’s cool we are embracing it now, because the things we go through can uniquely help us to help others who feel hopeless!! Always happy to read your words, Christine – prayers and blessings!

  11. OMG I have to drink chocolate milk from a glass, too! We are soul sisters for sure. <3 Love this post, dear Christine. There is no such thing as normal and we should never judge someone before we know what they are going through. <3

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