The New Normal

"Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." Marilyn Monroe 

recently had the opportunity to be a guest speaker for a class hosted by NAMI. The class is called Family-to-Family, and it is intended for the family members and loved ones of those who struggle with mental illnesses. (Find out more here: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-Family-to-Family)  I was asked to tell my story and share how I've been coping with my bipolar disorder. At the end, there was a Q&A section. I got asked a question that got me thinking. The question was: "How do you cope with who you are now? You aren't who you were before your mental illness, so how do you move forward instead of just treading water? How have you adapted to the new normal?". 

I am definitely not the person I was before being diagnosed. I used to be better at school, more inclined to be soft and kind, and more social and fun. Those parts of me were damaged or taken away by my illness. I struggle with school now. I went from being a straight-A student to failing three semesters in a row. I used to throw parties and go out with friends a lot. Now I keep to myself and avoid people. I used to be more patient. Now I am sometimes irritated by virtually everything. I mourn that I've lost these things sometimes. I miss the Rachel I used to be. 

It's easy to dwell on what I'm not anymore. It's easy to be caught up on what I've lost, what the normal used to be. I can sit here and be miserable about everything that my mental illness has changed, or I can do something with where I'm at right now. 

Now, I think it's perfectly fine and expected to mourn about my mental illness every once in awhile. I'm okay with that. But I'm not okay when I get down about it. That's not productive or kind to myself because "it is what it is." My life is where it is at right now, and I can't change the past. I can change my future and do everything in my power to be my best. 

Accepting your life as it is post-diagnosis is difficult. But it's possible. I've found the best thing for me to do is to put the skills I've gained from having a mental illness to good use. I may not be good at school anymore, but I'm a better listener. I may be more irritable now, but I have learned how to control my anger better and I'm more understanding others who can't. I may not be the social butterfly I once was, but I am a more emphathetic friend. I've come to accept that I'm not "normal" and my life never will be "normal". But that's okay, because I think normal is boring anyways.