The New Normal

It’s funny how, when someone says that they want to banish a certain word or phrase, that’s exactly when it becomes relevant to you.

Take, for example, “the new normal”. It was on Lake Superior State University’s banishment list this year, because–as one submitter put it:

The phrase is often used to justify bad trends in society and to convince people that they are powerless to slow or to reverse those trends. This serves to reduce participation in the political process and to foster cynicism about the ability of government to improve people’s lives. Sometimes the phrase is applied to the erosion of civil liberties. More often, it is used to describe the sorry state of the U.S. economy. Often hosts on TV news channels use the phrase shortly before introducing some self-help guru who gives glib advice to the unemployed and other people having financial difficulties.

Funny…just when y’all want to banish it, “the new normal” suddenly becomes relevant to me. For me, the new normal is learning to deal with the fact that Depression invited its cousin Panic Disorder to come live with us. Permanently.

Maybe the signs were always there. MedicineNet tells me that nausea is one of the symptoms of a panic attack. If that’s the case, I’ve been having panic attacks on and off since sixth grade–ever since the stress of having a crush on a boy at band camp made me nauseated, throw up and altogether miserable every morning for a week.

If that’s not a true panic attack, then I can tell you what is–pins and needles in my hands and feeling like I’m having trouble breathing. I’ve had that several times in the past, especially when I’m scared about something. In fact, when one of those types of attacks happened when I thought I was having an allergic reaction last fall, it turned into full blown hyperventilation. (I thought I was taking deep, calming breaths–despite the fact that the tingling sensation was continuing to spread–but when I got to the emergency room, the triage nurse told me I was hyperventilating. Scary!)

Either way, I know what a panic attack looks like and feels like now…that’s why I’m on medication, after all.

At first, it was hard for me to deal with the new normal. I went from being paranoid that I hadn’t done the right thing in committing myself to a mental hospital to despairing over the fact that I would have panic attacks–and medications for them–for the rest of my life. The most surprising internal battle to come out of all this? My napping habits.

Somewhere along the way in life, I got the idea that it wasn’t okay for a twenty-six year old to take daily naps. Maybe it’s because I’m young and am supposed to be full of energy. Maybe it’s because we’re trained to think that only “old people” take frequent naps. Or maybe it was because I only took a couple of naps a week before this. Either way, I got the concept drilled into my head…and now I’m having a bitch of a time getting it out.

Plain and simple: my medications may cause drowsiness. It says so on the side of both bottles.

More complicated: my medications depress my central nervous system. By what I understand of it, slowing down your CNS slows you down.

Think of it this way: your central nervous system is like the internet. (Or maybe more like the “information superhighway”, as they used to call the net.) The CNS sends messages all over your body at the speed of light–if not faster. (I actually have no idea how fast the CNS goes.) It tells your body what to do, where to do it, when to do it, how fast to do it, how often to do it…and whatever else your body needs to know. The average person’s CNS can be likened to the highest speed of broadband there is available–blink and the page is loaded. But for someone like me, who is on CNS-depressing medication…well, it’s like my body is running on dial-up. It doesn’t exactly take me forever to do things–I run at normal speed when I have enough energy. But the problem is keeping my energy. Sometimes, your dial-up connection just up and quits. And so do I.

My recent schedule consists of getting up at ten, reading the paper, checking my email on my BlackBerry, reading part of my book (if I have time) and then watching the first two games on The Price is Right before making my bed and getting into the shower. After I dress, it’s time for lunch (and the news), fifteen minutes of The People’s Court (the most important part of the noon news is fifteen minutes long…and my dad likes PC) and then Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. When that’s all over, it’s on to “washing up” (brushing teeth, etc.) and fitting in whatever I can before Peep at 1:30. At that point, if I still have enough “go juice” left, I go out into the living room, sit on the couch and write until I’m tired. I nap until five, and then I have enough energy for the rest of the night (which lasts ’til about two for me).

Would I have my energy back if I wasn’t on medications? Probably. But as much as that annoying part of my mind might argue that it’s “not cool” for me to nap every day, I have to say–daily naps are a whole hell of a lot better than daily panic attacks.

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