Saturday, February 25, 2006

Where Do We Go From Here?
OR on life, relationships and being nearly normal

It's interesting. One day you're a crazy odd person; twelve years later... Well, you're still a crazy odd person, but now you're unmedicated (or soon to be), signed off by your psychiatrist and generally let loose on an unsuspecting world. Now that's insane. What does a manic depressive with obsessive tendencies, occasional attacks of social anxiety and a bit of an eating disorder do when these things become less of a serious problem and more of, well, just a fact of an otherwise rather enjoyable life? What's this 'nearly normal' thing all about?

I intended to start this shiny new blog with grand announcements of my excellent health. As it is, I have time to sit here and type only because I'm bundled up in a duvet, in front of my laptop, surrounded by lemsip, tea and chocolate (the latter being the cure for the common cold, I promise you). This, however, is not my point. I may be as unsure of my point as ever, but I know I did have a point once, and I think it had something to do with the ultimate goals of health, happiness, a flat in London and a licence to teach. (Cue slightly maniacal laughter, in a 'particularly amused by current situation' way. Yes indeed.) These ultimate goals were my signposts to a normal life. They were what I worked towards, and I worked hard. So let's take stock, a bit, shall we? In reverse order.

Teacher. Last time I checked I was indeed one of those, even if evidence to the contrary currently includes me sitting in front of my laptop while bundled up in a duvet and listening to Xfm in the middle of the day. (I could really do with some more of that chocolate stuff about now.) This teaching thing was a serious aim for many angst-ridden years - one that seemed out of reach for quite a while. Now it seems I'm not too bad at it. It's completely exhausting, particularly when your brain doesn't work quite as straightfowardly as all the other teachers' brains seem to, but I think the kids quite like that I'm an obvious freak. It makes for interesting class discussions. Whether it's as rewarding as I thought it would be, when it symbolised my slow progress to a nearly-normal life, is a question I'm still working on.

Flat in London. This was a big, big deal some years ago when the idea of living independently and holding down a job was starting to look like a very naive dream. Today, progress on this one is pretty good. My remarkably comfortable living situation currently involves a roof terrace, a frighteningly large kitchen, and a brilliant flatmate who is introducing me to the concept of preferring nice, pretty things to cheap ones made out of pine (it's slow progress there). Other notable aspects of my life are:

1. a lovely, theoretically not-crazy girlfriend whose bonus features include an ability to cook (better than me, anyway) and being a positive reminder that learning to live in the real world (rather than my own, where I have more fun but forget to talk to people for days at a time and then go a bit loopy) is a good thing;

2. a fairly pleasant, but generally acknowledged as insane, family (and oh how happy I am that I don't live with them anymore);

3. vague ambitions to live abroad, write a play and own two cats (possibly not in that order);

4. a diverse range of long-lived obsessions that won't do the decent thing and go away, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer (don't tell me it's finished), Brit-pop (don't tell me it died in the nineties) and (I'm looking for another B to complete the triplet here, but I can't find one) whatever branch of Christianity works for me this week;

5. an unrelenting tendency to do too much and say 'sure, no problem' far too often, leading to the unexpected side effect of, well, having too much to do.

So that's me. Mostly. For now, anyway. And thus I arrive, finally, at that double bind Health and Happiness, and the possibility - just a vague one - that I can even achieve these without having to be toonormal.

This is something that struck my girlfriend recently, while we were on our way into town on the Northern Line. I was idly outlining the contradiction between a) my delusion of the week and b) an interpretation of the same situation that was probably a bit closer to reality. I do this a lot - I spend a while believing one version of events, as developed from a conspiracy theory that I am supporting entirely with blue tack and pieces of string, until it occurs to me that this viewpoint is both highly unlikely and rather stupid. I then make a conscious effort to focus on the less crazy version, because it's just better all round. The thing that struck The Girl was the sheer effort that I was putting into holding off this little delusion. This process seems quite normal to me, and yet it's true that it takes some work and occasionally gets a bit distressing. I just don't think of it in quite those terms. Moments like that, when she turned to me and said with sudden clarity, "I suppose there's a reason why they say that mental health problems are a disability," remind me that I shouldn't give up just yet on my whole part of why I have this is so I can get people to think thing.

Being in a (fairly) new relationship is leading me to realise that all my interactions are a kind of two-way learning curve, one that involves showing someone else how to live with a close-up view of my weirdness while I adjust to the idea that I need to get rid of some of these insane ways of working (since, after all, they only really benefit me). This, and other new situations have been an impetus to start writing in much the way that I do on Phrenetic, but with a bit more regularity. Perhaps. If I can be bothered. Anything's possible. Even this nearly-normal thing.

Ultimate goals, then. Small but important, as symbolic of that veritable holy grail of near-normality. Achieved. Done. Check. Finished. Go me.

So. Really. What now? What is this 'nearly normal' thing all about?

I may have some chocolate while I think about this one.