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.