‘Normal’

Do you ever wonder what normal really is, or if this mythical things really exists? I do, all the time.

There’s a lot about my life I can’t really complain about. I grew up with a good family, parents who were always there, a sister who was, while occasionally bratty (as younger siblings can be) when we were younger, was pretty good (and has become more awesome with age), and a family lifestyle that trended towards upper middle class. I wasn’t deprived of things, I wasn’t beaten or abused. We moved around a fair amount, sure, which made it hard to make a lot of friends, but it also meant that my sister and I got to see a lot of stuff that many people will never have the chance to see. I’ve always tended towards the quiet, mild-mannered, intellectual side of things; I’ve liked to read, voraciously, since I could figure out how, and while I did do some physical activities – I was in Little League, played soccer, was on a swim team for a while – my sister was usually the one who was more inclined to the more physically active side of things.

I think things started to diverge from what my mind assumes is normal in high school. I was bullied a fair bit in 8th grade – not bad enough to ever fear for my life, or contemplate suicide, but enough that my parents thought moving me out of public school was a good idea. So I went to an all-boys Jesuit high school. I actually enjoyed it, for the most part – a lot of the stuff you see in high school movies and TV shows never happened at my school, because there were no girls to show off for. But, given my normal level of introverted behavior, I never really got to socialize with girls in my high school years – I never dated, only had one female friend (who was the girlfriend of another friend of mine), and never really had that ‘normal’ high school experience. Not that my high school experience was all that normal, anyway – in high school, I was diagnosed with something called Graves’ Disease, which sounds rather dire but is really just an overactive thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland, from what I’ve been given to understand, is in charge of metabolism for the body, so an overactive thyroid basically kicks your metabolism into overdrive. This had some unpleasant side effects, to be sure – I was irritable (more than an average rebellious teenager), the overactive metabolism meant I burned through my energy levels by mid-day, which was problematic because it meant I often fell asleep in class (for me, it was English class), resulting in detention, my hands tended to shake (and since I was into playing wargames where you were supposed to pain the miniatures, this was kind of annoying, and yes, I was a huge nerd even then), and it also made my eyes kinda wonky. But, because it kicked my metabolism into overdrive, that was basically all I heard when I saw the doctor – because it meant that I could basically eat anything, in any amount, and lose weight. To a teenage guy, that sounded awesome! To current me, if I had a time machine I would go back and punch my younger self until I agreed to take my medication regularly.

See, eventually, if left untreated (which, since I was either bad at remembering to take my medication, intentionally not taking it, or both, mine basically was), Graves’ Disease can result in heart disorders, brittle bones, and in rare cases thyroid storms (which have a lot of unpleasant symptoms, comas among them). So while I muddled through my high school years, totally unaware of how I was setting myself up for unpleasantness later – through both my almost total lack of social interaction with women, as well as my own medical condition – when I went to college, things went poorly. I basically stopped taking my medication altogether, which meant I would run at high energy for several hours, then crash at often inopportune times (like when I needed to go to class). I also had no idea how to really interact with the fairer half of my college’s population, so withdrew socially. Again, if I had a time machine, I would go back and shove my younger self into social situations, because it would have helped prevent what was coming, or at least kept it from getting so bad.

Eventually, my Graves’ Disease progressed to the point where doctors recommended that my thyroid be ablated – or, essentially, destroyed with radioactive iodine. I would then need to take a thyroid replacement supplement for the rest of my life, because I would have nothing producing the necessary chemicals to keep my metabolism working properly. Sadly, I got no superpowers from being irradiated, and I strongly suspect that that, or something related to it, was the event that essentially kicked off my clinical depression. Which, let me tell you, is not fun to have at all. Though I imagine the two suicide attempts probably illustrate that pretty well. Not getting effective treatment for that for so long would be number three on my list of things to use a time machine to punch my younger self for.

Also, sometime around the beginning of 2013, I developed Restless Leg Syndrome – essentially, my leg starts to twitch when I get drowsy, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fall asleep, and even after I fall asleep, it can continue to twitch in my sleep – either waking me up, or just using up some of the energy I would normally be recharging with a good night’s sleep. I have medication for it, but it takes a good half an hour to an hour to kick in, and sometimes it doesn’t work, meaning that some nights I get next to no sleep, or I wake up tired because my twitching legs kept me from really resting.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that my dose of thyroid replacement hormone typically rests me at about the lowest possible point I can have my metabolism be at and count as ‘normal’, meaning my metabolism runs pretty slowly – so it doesn’t take a lot to tire me out. As well, one of the symptoms of depression that never seems to go away for me, even when my medication helps to clear up the more concerning mental symptoms, is fatigue. So on any given day, I’ve generally got maybe 8-10 hours of activity in me before I’m basically done; most days after work I just head home and crash, because I’ve got no energy left. It also means that I gain weight easily, and it’s a huge pain to lose – exercise, when not actively, physically painful – which it often tends to be – burns through my daily energy so fast that I spend several hours recovering after 30 minutes to an hour of exercise, which isn’t a very good deal. This is annoying, as there are things I would like to learn to do, like swordfighting, that while mentally appealing, I find painfully difficult to do regularly, because I just lack the energy to keep up a good training regimen.

But I can’t fix any of these things – the best I can really do is manage them, try to get my doctors to help me out as best they can, and hope for the best. I don’t know what normal is for other people, but that’s normal for me. There are a lot of areas where I am not lacking, but I would probably give up most of what I own for the ability to get through a day and not feel totally drained, or to ask a girl out and not feel absolutely crushed when I get turned down. If teenage me had had any idea about how screwed up he would be making future me by doing what he did, he probably would have punched him/me out. Repeatedly.

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