Is this what “normal” feels like?

For the last 10 years (perhaps even longer) mental illness, depression and anxiety, has plagued my life. In my blog I have tried so hard to articulate how this feels, to try and help those who have never experienced the black dog of depression understand just a little part of what it is like. Living with this illness has become my norm. Until now.

My last blog post shared how a new antidepressant had started to help. For just over two months I have been on citalopram. Over the past 10 years I have tried numerous antidepressants. In all that time not one has really rid the depression. Yes some have helped for a short while, or at least made me feel a bit numb to the intense emotions and anxiety so I have been more able to cope.

I know I have frustrated friends who haven’t understood why I have wanted to wean off them after a while. In all honesty it has always been because I have still felt ill even on them. Yes they might have helped in some way but not enough. As a side effect I have felt a bit out of it and dulled.

I had got to the point where I truly believed they did no good. Worse still though, I was blaming myself more and more. Perhaps I was making this depression up? Maybe I don’t have anything really wrong with my head? Maybe the chemicals really are all in balance and I’m just a big fat failure.

So when the latest attack of the depression hit, and I hadn’t been on any medication at the time, it took a lot of convincing mainly by two very good friends for me to return to the doctor and seek more medication. This time everything is so different!

I keep asking myself is this what it feels like to have a normal brain? Is this how it feels to not have a mental illness? I feel like I have had one for so long I have forgotten what it is like without one? It’s almost impossible for me to put it into words but it is like I have woken up out of a nightmare that has been my head. No longer is everything surrounded by grey. No longer am I in a fog.

I just feel content. Not happy. But just level and balanced. Last night I went for a drink with an old friend. She actually interviewed me for my first teaching job and we have remained close friends over the years (we always joke she is my surrogate mother). She said to me “do you mean the person I interviewed for that job 14 years ago is back?” And I laughed “yes”. She said you waltz that interview that day and you shone from day one.

It stayed like that for a while. Then I got ill with the depression and since then the fog has been there. I have had moments of being able to lift out of it. Moments of shining. Moments of pure joy. But beneath it has always been grey and depression.

Now it feels like it’s lifting. I feel so clear. I feel like I’m not fighting a battle with my head every day. I feel like I have so much more energy and enthusiasm for life again! I’m making decisions about my future. I’ve got a fire in my belly again for what I want. Life is there again. I’m not fighting to stay alive.

I’m not going to lie. It’s not perfect. I still self harm every day. This has become my coping mechanism that even my counsellor says she would be worried about me if I just stopped suddenly. I still have quite a lot of major self esteem issues and emotional issues due to past events that I believe will take years if I truly want to work through them. But despite all of that day to day is 10 times better.

I’ve made a decision. A decision I’m not questioning. A decision I accept for myself. The change brought about by this medication has proved to myself something I believe and try to educate others about. Mental illness is real. If I had a problem with my thyroid I might have to take thyroxin everyday for the rest of my life. The same as if I had diabetes I might have to inject insulin. Well I have a medical condition too. It’s called depression and it’s a problem with my brain. I have to take antidepressants. I’m going to take them everyday for the rest of my life because they are a treatment for my illness.