Pretending to be normal.

201200003769_003The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well. ~ Alfred Adler

Definition of normal:  not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle; conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern; free from mental disorder — Merriam-Webster

I stashed this picture and the beginnings of a post in my files a long time ago, knowing that one day I wanted to write about it, but having no idea what I wanted to say.  It seemed important to me at the time.  Also, I love the cheerful, happy women in Suzy Toronto’s work.

At the time, I think I was exhausted by trying to be normal.  At the same time I wondered, “Why would I want to be normal?  I want to be more than normal.  I want to sparkle. I want to shine.  I want to leave my mark!”  The sad truth is I couldn’t get to normal, so how was I ever going to sparkle, let alone shine?  What on earth was wrong with me?

I have mentioned before that my family is rife with alcoholics/drug addicts.  I don’t remember having talked about the other family scourge–depression and/or anxiety.  I think that if I made a list of relatives who suffer from depression, it would be longer than the list of those who do not.  Most of my life I would have put my name on the those-who-do-not list.  Even after having taken an anti-depressant (SSRI) to help me through my divorce, I still would have considered myself a non-depressed person.  I have, in the past two or three years, admitted that I sometimes have bouts of depression.  But did I consider myself a depressed person?  Never!

This last bout of functioning-well-below-normal depression has changed my mind.  “And why is that?” you might ask.  I’m still trying to figure out the answer.  This time it went on and on for a very long time–close to a year, I think.  I was anxious.  I was worried.  I was tired.  I was so very, very sad.  I was short-tempered, impatient, critical.  The biggest clue of all was, I think, that I started to have numerous physical symptoms.  Test after medical test turned up nothing.  I started to realize that the chest pain I went to the emergency room for was probably an anxiety or panic attack.  The digestive symptoms I was having may have been due to what was eating me rather than what I was or was not eating.

I have spent a lifetime resisting the depressed label.  There are a couple of reasons for my attitude toward this particular illness: 1) I don’t like to admit to being less than healthy (as in it seems like a weakness to me), and 2) there is too much stigma still attached to any type of mental illness.  Number two is changing slowly but there’s much educating to be done before it becomes just another illness.

I believe that my reasons for thinking the way I did probably come from my attitudes toward my parents as I reached adulthood.  I saw my mother as weak because she played the poor-pitiful-me role her entire life.  I needed her to pull herself up and take control of the family.  I realize now that she couldn’t.  I saw my father as the drunk who didn’t provide well for his family.  I know now that he suffered from depression, too, and was likely drinking because of the anxiety and depression.  His drinking then exacerbated the problem.  I now believe that both parents did the best they could under very trying circumstances.

I’m happy to report that I no longer have to pretend to be normal.  I feel normal.  I’m not sure I’m shining just yet, but I’m beginning to notice a few sparks on a fairly regular basis.  I’m planning to sparkle soon.  About two months ago, after taking a long, but gentle look, at myself, and recognizing that I have spent most of my adult life depressed and anxious, I decided to be kind to me and I put myself back on antidepressant medication.  One month ago I told my doctor what I had done.  She asked many, many questions about how I had been and how I was on medication.  She agreed with me.  I did the right thing.

photo(9)Disclaimer:  I am not suggesting that anyone reading this post should do what I did.  If you think you are depressed, please see an appropriate professional.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

photo(6)He was my brother, and sometimes he got pretty heavy.  ~ Pat

The Korean Peninsula is perhaps the most talked-about item in the news nowadays.  At least that is the case here in the United States.  And all the chatter about North Korea/South Korea has caused me to think a great deal about my late older brother.

Jack was his name and he spent about fourteen months in South Korea with the US Army.  I can’t remember the exact dates of his tenure there but I do know that a part of it would have been in 1961, about eight years after the so-called end of the Korean Conflict.  I think of it as one of the many “conflicts” the US should never have entered. Peninsula-Korean-001

My uncle fought in Korea.  Like many veterans of war, he wouldn’t talk about it.  I remember one time when he had been drinking heavily he said, “It isn’t fun seeing your buddies’ arms and legs flying through the air.”  That’s the only time I ever heard him mention it.  He received a bullet wound in his wrist.  I used to ask him about the scar but he would make up some joke about how it might have happened.

Back to my brother.  Jack used to say that the best he could tell, he and the other GI’s were in South Korea to play war games at the border from time to time, and to sit around playing cards and drinking beer the rest of the time.  He told me the North Koreans and the Chinese would line up their tanks at the border and aim them toward the troops.  Then the US Army would do the same, aiming at the North.  The North would retreat.  Then the US troops would retreat and go back to their beer.  I realize that not all American soldiers were sitting around drinking beer but that would have been important to my brother.  He had the genetic predisposition to alcoholism which has been the demise of many of my relatives.

I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR as I was driving home from Chapel Hill this week.  The first hour Diane and her guests discussed the scary young President of North Korea and his irresponsible threats.  A guest on the show talked about the war games that are going on now at the North-South border.  The description sounded almost exactly like the one given by my brother more than fifty years ago.  I think my jaw dropped.  Are we still doing that!?  Should I take heart in the fact that there’s now a woman in charge in S. Korea?  I can hope.

The black and white photo at the top of this post is my brother surrounded by children while he was in Asia.  Jack is the tall one with blond hair.  😉  This is my favorite shot of him.  I’m not sure where he was at the time but wherever he went the children gathered around him.  Dogs liked him too.  The ubiquitous but vague they say that anyone who’s loved by children and dogs can’t be all bad.  Many times that thought comforted me.

My brother died at the age of sixty-one of an alcohol and drug overdose.  That was almost eleven years ago.  I still miss him.  When I think of him I try to remember his charming smile, his sense of humor, his big heart for animals and children.  My daughters loved him, as did the older grandchildren.  The younger ones either didn’t meet him or were too young to remember him.  It gives me pleasure to show them this snapshot of him and to tell them they would have loved him.  RIP Jack T.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother by Neil Diamond