Normal vs. normalcy

My friend Angela, who is in recovery from anorexia, asked today whether her life would ever be normal again. It's a question I've often asked myself: when will my life stop being ruled by my eating disorder? When will I start to feel normal again?

Normal, we are told, is relative. Normal is just a setting on a washing machine. I'm not normal- I'm not even sure that I'm psychologically capable of being normal. I've come to accept that I'm never going to be normal. This is fine, and yet here I am, still searching for "normal," whatever that means.

What one of Angela's friends pointed out is that maybe normal isn't the exact thing that we're looking for. Maybe we're actually looking for a sense of normalcy in our lives.

I think the actual definition of normalcy will differ from person to person, but to me, I define normalcy as the loss of that feeling that your life has been hijacked by the eating disorder and other mental illnesses. It's the sense that you are living an authentic life, rather than being obsessed with food and weight.

I don't look around at my life now and think, "Damn, this is the life I've been wanting to live." I'd rather not spend my days wrangling pies and slinging bread. I'd love to support myself by freelancing alone. However, there is that pesky little thing called reality to deal with. Despite all of this, the normalcy in my life has dramatically increased compared to when AN was ruling all of my thoughts and behaviors.

One of the biggest advantage of this return to normalcy is the knowledge that I don't need to hide how I spend my time (reading cookbooks in the gym--yes, I've done that!). Not that I spent my time like some sort of stereotypical twenty-something; this normalcy isn't the sense that I'm doing what everyone else is doing. But as I leave the ED behind, I don't feel like my ED is making me life a freakish life. My life now involves things like eating and watching TV. It involves resting and napping and licking the spoon when I bake brownies. It involves chatting with the girls at work about the cute customers and visiting with old friends and their new babies. It's a normalcy I never thought I would ever see again...and yet here I am.

No, I'll never be normal, but I am starting to experience some normalcy.

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Anonymous said...

I have been struggling a lot lately with what "normal" and "recovered" means. Especially because it seems that body-hatred is so normal in today's society! When I first met with my nutritionist, she assured me that recovery was amazing- that you love yourself, mind and body, and are empowered, etc. I think it's more helpful for me to see recovery as a sense of "normalcy," instead of as a Unicorn-and-Rainbows Land, because it makes it sound more attainable.

From Here to There. In Purple. said...

everyday i wake up hoping to feel 'normal'... like MYSELF again.. hence why i will make the return to treatment. hopefully, for good.


Abby said...

There is no "normal," or if there is, it's sure on a sliding scale. I often feel completely weird for the way I live my life, the things I like, do and take an interest in, but then I figure that to each their own. It may not be "normal" for a 20-something to prefer to spend Saturday nights at home, watching the game or working outside and being in bed by 11, but it's what I like.

Some 20-something's "normal" involves drinking every weekend, never exercising, pregnancy scares or wild parties and no sleep--no thanks. In that case, I would rather not be "normal."

For me, I just want a sense of peace. It doesn't have to be "normal" by any definition, but I have to be a peace with the way I live my life, the decisions I make and the way I spend my time.

Obsessing over food or whether I can go for another walk isn't what I want my "normal" to be anymore. I want a new "normal," one that still involves a love for food, the outdoors and exercise--just in a more conventionally healthy way. That will be my normal, "normal" or not. ;)

Silly Girl said...

I can't remember what normal is. I have resolved to create my own normal that includes recovery. It is a day by day. And sometime I hope to get there.

Ms. Bee said...

I'm in recovery from eating disorders, as well. You are right that "Normal" is different for everyone, yet also the same. "Normal" in any type of recovery would be the end of the obsessive thoughts and actions. Or at least moving in that direction.

I don't get caught up in the idea of normal. I just love my ed-free life now. Enjoy the journey!

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

I think when I asked that question, I was wondering when my life would stop being ruled by my eating disorder. I was obsessed with counting every calorie and the number on the scale ruled how my day went (number down=good, number up or static=bad).

Now that I am in a PHP program and going through weight restoration, I am still counting calories and am obsessed with food - this time because I have to follow my meal plan when I return home on the weekends and because the program is still trying to assess how many calories I need for safe weight gain, there is little flexibility.

The weird thing is that I am so *inflexible* while in the throes of anorexia, but now feel frustrated by the inflexibility of following a meal plan. And then to be told I will probably need to plan meals (instead of eating intuitively) for at least a year after becoming weight restored to prevent another relapse makes it feel like this is going to be forever.

So I guess I wondered when I will be able to just eat like a normal person, or will anorexia always be nipping at my heels? I also wonder if my frustration with the inflexibility of following the meal plan is more a fight within myself to keep hold of my eating disorder, to not lose that identity that has gripped me for several years now, than a real frustration with having to plan meals that I know are designed to make me gain weight. And of course, it's easier when I am eating very little; it only requires me to avoid most foods and eat those with the fewest calories possible.

For me, I think I will always need to be at least conscious of eating and food; it has become too easy to restrict for any reason or no reason at all. So I think I will need to search for a new 'normal' and realize the old normal is gone forever.

I hope that doesn't mean I won't be able to have any spontaneity in my life, even in the area of food. But I find it weird that I desire to be normal and have flexibility in my life, because again I am extremely rigid about many things, not just food, when not in recovery.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to let you know that normalcy comes with time. I've been in recovery for two years now and have finally found a place in my head where I think I am normal or should I say average. There are no longer trains of words steamrolling through my head, words like suicide, restricting, purging, exercise. My head is clear and free from any and all obstructions... that is normal to me.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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