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.