Thursday, August 15, 2013

Not Normal (otherwise known as Mothering with Mental Illness)

I am Not Normal. That’s the truth I’ve been running from for years.

And it hurts.

If I’d known then, what I know now, I wouldn’t have had three children.

There, there’s the rub. Wouldn’t have had those three sweet creatures. Wouldn’t have imposed myself on them as their mother. If I had known that in fact I was Not Normal.

(Woah there, don’t even start with your anodyne “but who is normal?” comments… I am venting, so hear me out! It's kinda fun! No need to make me feel better or sprinkle fairy dust on me here.)

If I’d have known that what I thought were my grumpiness and moodiness and irrational ability to freak out at everything were actually the co-morbid triplets of bipolar, anxiety and migraines, and they were lifelong, I would not have chosen to be a mother.


Because motherhood for the normal is hard. It is long. Relentless. It requires energy and patience and the ability to at least try to love unconditionally.

But when you’re Not Normal… it’s one fuck load harder. Promise!

It requires hormonal upheaval which triggers episodes. It causes massive sleep deprivation which trigger episodes. It requires consistency. It requires that you put the care of another at or above the care you give yourself. And when there are three others, and you have a lot of your own needs….

It sucks. And you fuck up a lot.

You know what, I feel angry. And let down. That no doctor, despite me mentioning every time I was asked about family histories, ever picked up on it. Never. That the midwife, when I tried admitting, which took great courage, how shaken I was feeling during pregnancy and after birth, despite knowing my history, told me to pull my golden cloak round me.

MY FUCKING GOLDEN CLOAK WOMAN?! There’s something seriously wrong with me, this is Not Normal and you’re talking about golden fucking cloaks. It took me over a year to get up the courage to tell another medical professional that I really wasn’t coping. A year of serious, serious struggling. And the medicine he gave me took me to a whole other wacky level of Not Normal – so once again I was alone with it. Story. Of. My. Life.

I don’t feel like sharing events. But there were events during pregnancy and post partum that should have been red flags to the medical establishment. Episodes which were Not Normal. They would have been flags to anyone who knows about these things. But I didn’t, and my husband and family didn’t. And so we muddled on. Me, and him in our own secret world. Well my secret world of normal make believe – I’m a trained actress, you know. Occasionally I had to let him into quite how Not Normal things were. I’m sure at times he thought I was nuts… and I was! Its just no one else fucking realised.

I always thought I just needed to cop myself on. To pull myself together. BE NORMAL is my mantra. I study normal people. Do what they do around the edges of my life as a subterfuge. All the time beating myself up internally for not being able to do this Normal thing well enough to make it real for myself, the way everyone else can. I beat myself up for being over-emotional, over-dramatic, feeling too much, being hormonal. In short being overwhelmed, and not coping a lot of the time.

Normal = being able to cope with reality.

Most of the time I can’t….

Though someone fucking clever, and NOT Normal, once said, let me mangle it nicely for you, that “It’s a sign of mental illness, not mental health to be well-adjusted to a sick world.” I agree. But the Men in White Coats and School Teachers and Tax Inspectors do not. They are the Arbiters of Normal – they are not my folk! I hang with the artists, hippies, dreamers, poets, dancers, mad ones and earth mothers. We dig Not Normal in all sorts of funky ways.

Not coping with Normal does my nut. I really want to cope. I want to be stable and Normal and reliable to the rest of the world, but really for my kids. I REALLY hate that I’m not. REALLY. It cuts me up so bad.

And please don’t give me the “but you’re such a good mum, your kids are lucky to have you” bollocks. Yes, I’m better than someone who’s struggling with addiction, someone who’s sexually or physically abusing their kids. But that’s quite a low bar really for a perfectionist. I am irritable, regularly too tired to do anything, get anxious doing the weekly shop, struggle having their friends over for playdates, struggle socialising with all but my immediate close circle, our house is in chaos, I tend to freak out at birthdays and Christmas, I’m always sick, I can shout and scream, am always distracted.  Sure I can be fun, do creative stuff together and am affectionate. But really, they have quite a bum deal. And so do I. It’s hard enough being like this, feeling like this, but then feeling guilty about the impact that this has on others. That triples sucks. Specially when you super love those people. I have experienced this from both sides now. I know how it sucks both ways. Yup, woo-hoo I’d like to receive my Buddha certification, I’ve passed my test in General Compassion and can bugger off to hippie heaven.

But instead I’m still here, making amends for recent crappy behaviour, pulling myself through cups of tea that I’ve been avoiding, trying to focus on school uniforms, and brushing teeth, and stacking dishwashers.
When really I don’t give a flying fuck about any of it and would much prefer to be in my own little bubble with a book, Pinterest, a pen and some paper. All the time.

I struggle with how much they need from me still, and can just see how many more years into the future it stretches. As I said… if I knew then, what I do now I would have made very different decisions. But that’s the thing about having kids. You can’t really make decisions afterwards, except ones that cut like a knife, and so you’re stuck struggling. Knowing you want better for them. Knowing you can’t deliver. Knowing that most of the time your crapness is better than nothing. Yes what a heartening thought – my crap presence is, 95% of the time better than my total absence. Cheering! But I love them and I wish them a perfectly Normal mother. I wish them the mother I wanted to be, I thought I was going to be when I started sprogging.

I feel angry, and sad. Sad for me, for my husband, and most of all for my kids, who really don’t deserve to have to differentiate what is really me and what is my illness. I have tried to explain it in simple terms, what this illness is, what my true feelings for them are. I try regularly. It tends to garner blank looks or be brushed off. My Not Normal is Normal for them! That makes me sad… and happy. But with the added awareness that Not Normal passes down families and a sneaking suspicion of the reality that it has, I try to model openness and honesty in the face of this hugeness within which I live. It comes out as a strange mix of apologies, snot and fake blasé matter-of-factness.

But now at least I know, when I see others enjoying motherhood, blooming during pregnancy, doing OK to keep house, that YES, actually there IS something wrong with me. I’m officially Not Normal. Any of the Arbiters of Normal could prove that to you. I just keep my head down and out of sight so they can’t. Arbiters of Normal can be malicious fuckers to the Not Normalers of this world.

It’s a kind of dance we do. We know we’re Not Normal, and so do they. But as long as our Not Normalness is still within the realms of Normalness they’ll leave us alone. So we learn to do a good show of Normal 101 to avoid detention, drugs, scalpels, shocks and separations.

And meanwhile daily life continues as it always does. Have kids, try to be Normal. Hate being normal. Can’t do Normal. Feel like you're a crap mum. Repeat ad infinitum. Have good day. Believe it is your new Normal. YOU can do... Oh, no. actually you can't.


See you in the introverted artist area in the red tent at the hippie festival of dreams, far from the unsuspecting eyes of the Arbiters! I’m the one with the flouncy skirt curled up with a book. Looking most definitely Not Normal – a fact which I’ve always secretly enjoyed about myself!


  1. Oh, honey. This is strong. You are amazing. You are making a change and a difference by talking about it and being open, and you are aware and you are trying. That's worth a lot.

    What the fuck was that woman talking about with the golden cloak nonsense, though? What sort of answer is that?

  2. Thanks M. Publically paid midwife. Still makes me mad...

  3. this rings with me... as you had suspected... But I also agree with the comment of your not normal friend that if being 'normal' means you find this sick place an ok world to live in... the I prefer not being normal
    I also can't deal with reality on many many occasions. Care to start a colony somewhere (without the enslaving etc obviously)


    The link above is for a book I bought for my nephew to try and help him with my sisters depression might be worth having a look.
    Love Loo xx

    1. Thx Loo, never come across it before, will check it out. X

  5. I love this. I hate that you feel like this but I love this post.
    Big love x

  6. *sprinkles fairy dust*.....I had severe post-natal depression after each of my children were born, I found both pregnancies traumatic. I am normal. Whatever diagnosis you've got I hope you will try to look to the future and give yourself a break. You can do this, you have to.
    And if your fears that one of your children might develop the same "not normal"ness in the future you'll be able to look them in the eye and tell them they can manage just like you did. I honestly believe you are more than able.

  7. From the daughter of a "not normal mother" Normal is never as it seems there is no real blueprint : ) even those with apparent perfect "normal" lives.
    As a mother now myself, i sometimes burst pride with how well she did cope with three of us ( i have 2 sisters) an absent military father and her "not normalness" yes my childhood was full of upheaval and sadness, but there was also so much beauty and love... perfectly normal mothers aren't always so great... be yourself.

  8. I really really love this and adore you. I've made the decision not to have children because of my not normalness. To function I have to be selfish, I have to have quiet, and naps, and sleep ins, and hours spent reading. The urge to try to be "normal", to try to have a family, wanders about every now and then, but for me, the decision not to have kids feels right.
    I'm sorry that you came to it too late to have that, but I applaud you for being brave and honest and your awareness of self.
    You're pretty awesome.

    1. Thanks, Dominee, glowing here. What a strong, brave decision to make.

  9. I really feel for you Lucy! X It's not easy being a Mama in the best of circumstances but with added complexities - especially those that mess up emotions - it's really tough! I can appreciate your thoughts that you would have chosen not to have children, but I like the idea that our children chose us! :-D x Love and support to you, Amanda xx

  10. Maybe your kids are actually a gift to keep you from going completely totally bat shit gaga loopy? When I read your dreaming aloud columns, I feel the soulful earnest loving connected rhythmic thread of your mama being weaving love and magic. But when dark and strange things that happen to you in your past are still there, how can they not eat at you and make you feel mad and bad and hurt? It is not so terribly surprising. Don't beat yourself up so much darling when you didn't ask for the headfucky stuff to happen to you or to drive you a bit gaga. Be more loving to yourself. You are a good person, you are the umbilical nurturer to your children, your time will come for frolicks and freedom and wildness again, for now, talk it all out, let your grief out, keep finding ways to comfort and nurture your soul in a way that really helps. Many of us are survivors of parents who themselves were traumatized in some way and damaged. Keep looking for ways to break the cycle, never give up on that - you don't have to continue in that way, you can break out of it and walk a different path - I believe in you. Lots of love dearest xxxxx

    1. What wisdom! And what strength of expression - bat shit gaga loopy, love it!

  11. You made me laugh. I'm not sure if it was your intention to be funny but you are. Being not normal is hard. Being dependent on tablets to try to maintain some form of normal behaviour in my not normal life. But, it is my a not normal way. I have in recent years realised that 'normal' actually is a perception. We all have what it normal for us. Even with our not normalness. Being not normal is therefore normal, right? Normal being what is mostly constant in our lives. Finding out I was not normal actually has given me the freedom to stop trying to be normal - the normal that is defined by others as that's their normal. I have my own normal. And you do too. Really, really enjoyed reading this. I like how you write about us not normals....makes it feel....normal..;-)

    1. Thanks Tisme, yes it was supposed to be funny as well, I made myself laugh too writing and reading it, was surprised more people didn't pick up on it - I think most people picked up the anger and sad more...

  12. Lucy, all I can say is that you are not alone on this one..... I am starting to believe there are more "not normal" people out there that I ever imagined. And you know what?! For what I can see of them, they are AWESOME!!!! Despite the illness and all!!! No-one out there is perfect.... and every genius and inventor has not been a "normal" person either. You rock!! Love from another "not very normal" mama xxxxxxxx

  13. From one bat shit gaga loopy not normal to another, hello! Hadn't come across you before, thanks for introducing yourself and for being so wonderfully honest. Sitting in a bubble with pinterest and a pen...... Yup, I know that one! Looking forward to reading more x

  14. From one bat shit gaga loopy not normal to another, hello! Hadn't come across you before, thanks for introducing yourself and for being so wonderfully honest. Sitting in a bubble with pinterest and a pen...... Yup, I know that one! Looking forward to reading more x



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