Why can’t I just be normal?

When I have told others that I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, people are often surprised. I obviously have done a great job of hiding some of those struggles with many people who have known me well.  Is hiding that truth enabling a stigma?

I turned 45 recently, and I’m still learning more about myself each day. Since I can recall, I’ve always thought ‘this is just who I am.’  When you’re wired a certain way, you don’t know any different.  Right?  I was raised in a really good home with loving parents, siblings& a strong faith.  I cannot recall ever going without anything I ever needed or really wanted.  What in the world would I have to be worried, anxious, or depressed about?  That was something that happened to people in bad situations, or to someone who had suffered some sort of trauma, right? 

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression around age 19.  Looking back though, the tendencies and thoughts that I was having, I remember always having.  I don’t remember ever “not” feeling that way.  I remember having stomach aches in elementary school- all of the time. Again, that’s how I was wired.  That was just me, right?  Anxiety and mild depression really started to show their true colors when I needed to start making more decisions on my own as a young adult. In fact, a big symptom I had was indecisiveness.  Going to one store ( a 10- minute visit to Target) to pick up a simple item would turn into an all-day decision (spending three hours in the entire mall.)Other big decisions were impacted too.  How could I choose a college major?  I didn’t know where I would be living.  Would I marry someday?  Would I have children?  What type of salary would I need?  Thoughts would snow-ball quickly for me.  Soon, choices and decisions weren’t made.  Anxiety would keep my wheels spinning.  Instead, I’d find myself feeling guilt.  What was wrong with me?  Why couldn’t I just make up my mind?  I had goals, hopes and dreams.  Wasn’t I good enough to move forward to achieve those like my peers?  Not only would I feel guilt, but I would be angry.  That anger stemmed from anxiety and depression.  Unfortunately, with a short temper, I would find myself taking that anger out on those I loved the most.  This is just one example how the cycle of anxiety and depression has impacted my life. 

The last 25 years has brought many seasons: student, early marriage, first career, young mother, wife, stay at home mother, working FT & PT, daughter, friend, parent of teens…  The list will continue to evolve.  Each season is unique, yet anxiety and depression still creep in. This is all with a healthy family, a loving and supportive spouse, great kids, careers, and many blessings.  What in the world do I have to be anxious or depressed about!?

It’s a constant process: medication management, meditation, counseling, lots of exercise, yoga, healthy eating, etc.  One thing I found most beneficial though was just having a candid conversation with my primary care doctor.  In tears, I shared that I hated being wired this way. I didn’t want a lifetime of medications.  Why can’t I just be “normal” like everyone else and cope with everyday ups and downs?  If I can’t handle the normal day to day stuff, how will I handle a real tragedy?  She calmly explained that I have a chemical imbalance.  If I were diabetic or had heart disease, we wouldn’t think twice about seeking medication to manage the illness. This is no different.  I still remember that calming conversation often. In addition, counseling has also helped me understand that I have weathered struggles in life.  I have handled them well, and I’ll continue to manage and handle what will come. I have the tools to manage this. There is no reason for me to compare my struggle or challenge to someone else’s.  Regardless, a struggle is a struggle. 

There is an unfortunate stigma associated with mental illness.  When I see people around me suffer, or hear of death by suicide, it truly breaks my heart.  Not everyone has the support and resources they need or want.  I am hopeful that sharing my story on this forum is a start to ending this stigma. I want to tell others- you are normal!  I am normal!    You can handle life’s challenges- even the good stress that a wonderful life will bring.  You can learn and listen from your body and mind.   You are not alone!  I am grateful for the opportunity to share, for a wonderful doctor and family, and excited to keep learning for another 45 years.