When suffering low mental health, we often turn this into Paradise. A promised land tantalisingly out of reach. So sought after, sometimes our only wish is to go back to normal.
But normal isn’t a place. It’s not a simple drive away. Normal – it’s just a concept. It pulls us in, gives us a glimpse of what it looks like, but we never actually get there. It teases us. It haunts us. It stops us working for our future.
What can we do? We long to get to this place. The desire to be normal is so strong and affects every part of our lives. But no matter how hard we try we can’t seem to get close enough. Mental health gets in the way, life gets in the way. All we want to do is to get back to where we started. But every time we head in that direction we’re stopped. We try time and time again, but we only end up away from the normal we so desperately seek.
This is something I struggled with when I first got depression. I didn't believe I had a future. All I wanted to do, even in my 'happier moments' was to get back to the past. I wanted nothing more than to get back to the healthy, happy 'normal' kid I was. But no matter how hard I tried I could never make it.
I put all my energy in trying to be normal. I just wanted everything I was going through to magically disappear. I tried to live like my life was normal, pretending my mental health was ‘absolutely fine thank you very much’ hoping it would go away. Hoping that would work. It didn't. It was like living someone else's life. I had come away from that and the more I suffered trying to get back, the further I came.
I was working backwards. I was trying to get to the person under the mental health, be the person I was before. It wasn't working for me. Mental health ingrains itself so deep into our lives, it’s not something we can simply shake off. Not something we can ignore.
One of the major turning points in my life was when I stopped working backwards. I started by accepting that I had mental health problems, and I had to learn to live with them. When I realised that it was a part of me that would only disappear in time, I started to look to the future more, and work out a place where I was happy with myself as I was.
At first, I didn't know what I was doing. My plan was something like "get up and go to school, genuinely smile once a day." Once I achieved that I was able to work on new goals. I wasn't beating myself up that I wasn't normal. I was working with my mental health, and accepting it was going to stick around.
So why do we have to go back to be normal? 1 in 4 of us suffers mental health – it is a perfectly normal thing. Trying to fight it is only going to exhaust you. You need to save that fight for the future. I'm nowhere near 'normal'. But I'm normal for me. And that's what matters.
So, how can you do this?
Instead of thinking back to how things were before, think of how you'd like things to be in the future. But be realistic. I always planned along the lines of "If I was still suffering, but in a better place, what would life look like?" Planning for the future meant I was able to work for a future. It gave me a reason to move forward.
I turned my mental health from something to fight against, into something to work with.
So how can you do the same?
This was one of the main things that helped me. Goals encourage you to think into the future. Instead of fighting for the past, you can actively seek the future. But don’t just say “I want to improve mental health.” Make it smaller and actionable so you actually achieve something. Remember, you’re working towards a new future, not trying to get back to the one you had.
Accepting Mental Health
Everyone has mental health, the same as physical health. It’s not something that’s going to go away, but it is something you can improve. It’s part of who you are. Accepting it doesn’t mean giving into it. It means working with your mental health and understanding your limits to what you can and can’t do.
Fighting all the time's exhausting. You’ll burn out before you reach the end. Mental health isn’t just a rush to the finish, a rush to remove all the problems. It’s a journey and one you’ll have to walk forward on.
Don’t try and force yourself to be normal. Don’t force yourself to be someone you’re not. Be the person you feel you are, not the person you feel you should be. Normal isn’t something you’re meant to be. You’re just meant to be you
And who can honestly say they’re normal anyway?
Jake Symons is a passionate mental health advocate dedicated to helping others since he started suffering himself aged 11. After experiencing the lowest points, Jake shares his story and gives tips and advice to others, like him, who are going through hard times. He’s a professional freelance writer and can be found at jakesymons.com or follow him on Twitter