What is “normal”?
Are you “normal”?
I don’t think I have ever been “normal”. Even as a small child I remember being scared and wrecked with worry about the littlest of things. Every glance from a teacher meant I was in trouble or that I was going to repeat the 2nd grade. Of course, none of those things happened, but it didn’t stop me from constantly re imagining the scenario over and over again at different stages of my life.
I spent all of my teen years and early twenties with anxiety. Not a lot of anxiety, but enough to keep me on my toes. I hit 26, married to a fantastic man, we had a beautiful red headed toddler. I went to bed one night, totally “normal” and I woke up the next morning a different person. Anxiety had jumped up and grabbed hold of me in a way I never had thought possible. Suddenly a headache meant sure death, a body ache meant an incurable debilitating disease. All the things that could go wrong suddenly were pushed to the front of my brain. I couldn’t dismiss them like I used to do. My every thought was consumed with what would happen to my daughter when I died or how much of a burden I would be to my husband when I could no longer care for myself.
I sank into a deep deep depression. I could no longer get out of bed. I was scared to be left alone. JJ was my saving grace. He stayed home with me, working from his lap top while sitting beside me in bed. I stopped sleeping. I went days and weeks without sleeping more than an hour or so a night. My chest hurt. My jaw hurt. Surely I had an un-diagnosed heart defect, I thought I would drop dead at any moment. I was lying in bed night after night with my heart beating so hard, I could feel it in my eyes, in my fingertips, in my toes. I was shaking all the time. I couldn’t even hold a glass of water. I went to the doctor, looking for relief, only to be dismissed. I felt like no one believed me. “Get more sun, drink more water, exercise more.. There is nothing physically wrong with you..” – several doctors said.
I WAS crazy. I had to be. I had medical professionals telling me I was basically a headcase. I sunk so much deeper into my own head and worries. I cried everyday. I stopped eating. I didn’t take care of my daughter. I ignored my husband. I stopped talking to my friends. JJ removed the guns from our home when I told him one night that If this is what everyday of my life was going to feel like, I no longer had the will to fight through it. He sat on the floor and held me as I rocked back and forth screaming at the top of my lungs.
I tried CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). It did not work, not even a little bit. I don’t visualize. I can not picture myself in a forest near a babbling brook. I can’t meditate, or chant or any other self healing, feel good mantra. After several sessions of me repeatedly telling her that “THIS IS NOT WORKING!!” she finally said “Well, I don’t think this is working…”
REALLY?!?!!?!? YOU DON’T SAY?
I gave up. I was a lost cause, I had lost hope. I was crazy. I was also pregnant.
My sweet, sweet new reason to keep fighting on. The second baby I had wanted for so long had come into my life at the perfect time. Huntley gave me hope. But she also gave me a whole new set of worries and traumas. I had good days and bad days. Mostly bad. I wanted my baby to be healthy. I refused to take any type of anti anxiety or depression medication. If I could get through a year and a half of pure hell without a doctor caring or believing that I needed help, surly I could make it through 40 more weeks. IT WAS HORRIBLE. I had constant panic attacks, feeling certain that my baby had died, or was about to die. I spent more time in the doctors office than any one person should care to admit. I was placed on bed rest after they worried that my placenta was detaching.
The night Huntley was born, I finally began taking Zoloft. It worked for awhile, but I didn’t want to be on it. I didn’t want to admit that I had a problem. I felt like I should be a stronger person, a better mother. Through all of this time, Jon and I kept our battle private. We didn’t talk about it to our families. I didn’t want to hear that if I prayed more, or tithed, or put more of my faith into Jesus Christ that I would be healed. I had done all that. I also didn’t want to hear that it was all in my head and I should just try harder to get over it and not think about it. I had told myself that enough, I didn’t want to hear it from my conservative family. Being on the Zoloft, to me, was proof that I wasn’t strong enough, that I didn’t believe enough, that I wasn’t a good enough person.
My world was collapsing in on me again. I went back on the Zoloft at JJs request. It didn’t work this time. We tried other meds, no dice. At best, I was a zombie walking through my life, not really engaging with my husband or my children. At my worst, I was a horrible person, screaming at random strangers for bumping into me in the store, breaking down in tears if Hy Vee didn’t have my oatmeal. Effexor was the worst. I had never been such a spiteful angry bitch than when I was on it. It may have curbed my anxiety, but it turned me into a horrible human being. I stopped taking it.
I stopped taking anything at all. I started working out – running, lifting weights, eating better. I looked better on the outside, but I was still a wreck on the inside. My doctor had told me that it would help, that a healthier lifestyle would all but cure my anxiety. It did not. What a joke! I was running mile after mile as fast as I could, trying to outrun something that was living in my own head.
I have finally landed on a medication that, when combined with working out and eating right, has kept my anxiety at bay for several months. I’m happy now. Happier than I have been since the morning my anxiety won over.
I still worry everyday that the darkness will creep back up and find me again. That the anxiety will pull me under and push me back down into a tidal wave of fear.
Anxiety is so very real. It is not made up. It’s not just in your head (or mine). There is no shame in it, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Know that it is nothing that you have done. You are not being punished for not being a good enough person. Anxiety is an illness, just like any other illness. Just because people can’t see it, doesn’t make it any less real or scary. It has taken me a very long time to come to terms with my illness. I often feel alone and isolated, wondering if anyone else in the world is feeling this way.
Why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we admit that we are not perfect? Why is there so much shame placed on being a person living with a mental illness? As a society, we need to talk about this. We need to help the men and women suffering everyday, we need to let them know that they are “normal” and that asking for help is okay and not a shameful or embarrassing action.
I am lucky. I have JJ, my unwavering lighthouse in all of the fog and darkness. A lot of people don’t have that. They suffer alone and in silence, feeling like an outcast. Feeling like they don’t belong, wondering how much longer they can just go through the motions. Seek out those people – help them, love them, share my story with them. Let them know it gets better. Tell them God has more in store for them than just suffering through their life. Be the voice they feel like they no longer have. Hold them tight and don’t let go.
Believe them. Listen to them. LET THEM KNOW THEY’RE NOT ALONE. Give them my name, direct them to my blog. If you don’t know how to relate to them or what to say, I do. I have been there. I have struggled through it.
I ask God everyday to show me his purpose for me. To tell me what his plan is for my life.
Maybe this is it? Maybe I’m meant to share my story so others can find the light again also…
Life can be good again.