I interrupt the barrage of happy looking photos on Facebook to bring you this story.
Normal. What does it feel like as a normal person? This may seem like a weird question to ask, but it is one that I have been grappling with for a significant part of my life.
The last time I think that I felt normal was the 5th grade. So that would be what, 28 years ago? Wow! What do I define as normal? Feeling comfortable in my skin, not judgemental of others (beyond what most 5th graders were judgey of back in the pre-internet days), loved and loving. What makes 5th grade the cut off; what changed?
First, I changed schools my 6th grade year. Knowing no one, I realized that there were already cliques and that I with my “unique” sense of style (Bart Simpson t-shirts, anyone?) and the fact that I towered over everyone, was not going to fit in, no matter how much I wanted to.
Summer before 7th grade: my two best friends in the world (from all throughout elementary school) tell me that I am no longer cool enough to be their friends. Cool enough to be their friends? There are no harsher words that can be uttered to totally destroy a 12 year old’s self esteem.
I could go year by year, but it all starts to sound like a scratchy record on repeat. By high school, I was trying to figure out was I a good girl, a bad girl, a theater girl, or invisible. Cue college.
College was when I came to the realization that perhaps not everything that I was feeling was normal. That I felt more than the average person. So, going to a psychiatrist, I was introduced to Prozac and Paxil. Later, as life through college became bumpier due to a highly dysfunctional college relationship, I would become acquainted with Wellbutrin and Seroquel. I definitely felt more on an even keel, but was told that the medicines made me seem “less” like myself, so taking them became a choice: feel less anxious and more in control, or stay the version that people were used to me being. I made the choice to stay the version that people were used to.
After college, I made some very poor choices. Lots of guys, lots of drugs. Too much drinking and definitely not enough time taking care of myself or loving myself. Fast forward to 2004 and I had a breakdown. I asked to be committed to a local hospital because I literally did not feel like I could function anymore. I was sleeping an average of 4-5 hours a night, working long hours, and drinking too much. Back to the Paxil and Wellbutrin and I decided to make a life changing decision. I moved to Australia for 3 months to be with my brother and his family.
After being in Australia and feeling like I was finally in control of my life, I did what most people on medication do and decided I didn’t need it any more. And to be clear, I’ve never been diagnosed bi-polar or schizophrenic or any of those disorders, so I believed (not being a psychiatrist myself) that perhaps I didn’t need those drugs anymore to function.
So, from 2005 to 2012, I lived a pretty normal life. I spent a lot of time with family, made some new friends, and met my husband. We dated and after a year, he proposed. We were married in 2007. I may have had fleeting moments of not feeling good enough for him, or jealousy over women he worked with, but I figured that was normal. Not anything that might require counseling or medication again.
Then, in 2012, I became pregnant with our second son. At this point, we had relocated to Indiana and I knew no one except for my brother, his family, and my sister and mom. I found out I was pregnant in April when Ciaran turned 10 months old (oh, so that’s how babies are made!). It was the hottest summer on record and I was reeling from 24 hour morning sickness. I finally reached my third trimester and told my OB that I needed help. I was crying all of the time, felt helpless to do anything with Ciaran because I felt so sick all of the time. She prescribed Zoloft for me. And the fog started to lift and I felt better equipped to handle my life.
Since then, I have switched from Zoloft to Paxil and have added Buspirone and Xanax for anxiety. A week ago, I met with my nurse practitioner and told her that I was feeling more anxious and that I had been feeling unable to cry for my mom. She suggested changing from Paxil to Viibryd to see if that helped. And now I am in hell. I hope to God that this is not how normal feels. I thought that doing the change over my break to Florida would be a good idea in case this were side effects and I am glad that I did. I am having horrendous nightmares that I wake up from with a heart beating so fiercely that I am afraid it is going to burst out of my chest. If I thought that I was being haunted by ghosts in my dreams before, that was a walk in the park compared to what comes through my dreams now. I feel like I have a huge weight that takes up my chest cavity and that I could literally crawl out of my skin at any moment. The only peaceful moment that I have had so far has been kayaking on the Indian River and watching the manatees frolic.
So, when I return next week, I will follow up with my NP and will start therapy with a new therapist and hope that the new medication kicks in. But that still leaves me with the question, what does feeling like a normal person feel like? I hope it feels like having energy and wanting to exercise and cook and do fun things with my boys. I hope it feels like living a full and meaningful life and not doing things because I feel obligated or because they are the path of least resistance. And I hope that it means that I can finally mourn for my mom in a way that feels right to me.
If you read this and feel compelled, can you tell me what normal feels like for you?