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April 1976

If You Feel Good, You're Not Normal

TO MY SURPRISE, I have discovered that writing about depression can be quite depressing. But does it need to be? If I give it the light touch and dwell on self-help, rather than on dismal personal experiences, it may not be so depressing.

First, I want to make it clear that I am not an authority on the subject. After extra research, I'm not surprised to learn that some depressions are almost all physical, while many are caused by a combination of factors. Perhaps, like alcoholism, they can be mental, physical, and spiritual. For people suffering some kinds of depression, professional help is absolutely required. For others, I would like to share some of the antidepressants that work for me.

I now realize that my fall from the acute pink-cloud stage after a few months-in AA was perfectly natural. Reality is not up in the air some place. But later I found it hard to understand why the AA program, which had rescued me from the dread and incurable disease of alcoholism, did not relieve my depressions, blues, or blahs. I tried more inventory, attempted more meditation, revisited Step Three, all to no avail. I attended more meetings and found that they helped if they were jolly and full of laughter. Twelfth Step calls helped me to get out of myself only temporarily; sometimes, I couldn't seem to reach people.

The negative feelings were still restless, especially at night. I could not find any reason, except perhaps that my old negative ways of thinking had come home to roost. Or was it too many great expectations, or a sense that time had run out and I was not a success yet? Or was it anger turned in on myself and guilt for all these reasons? I asked for help from my Higher Power, but there seemed to be a block.

One day, I picked up the daily paper and found an article entitled "If You're Feeling Good Today You're Not a Normal Person." The article said, "Feel pretty good today?. . . If this is true, the Office of Health Economics wants you to know your condition is 'highly abnormal.'" Enjoying "complete physical, mental, and social well-being" was said to be definitely abnormal.

In my own words: If you think you are 100% well, boy, are you sick! Suddenly, I found myself laughing helplessly. To think that all the times I felt blue and depressed, I was merely being normal! I began to wonder whether it had been a mistake to take Step Two. I might be restored to sanity and become normal--and miserable.

Another title caught my eye: "Bruxism." That means grinding your teeth in your sleep, and the results are a painful mouth and puffy eyes. (If you are married, I suppose the teeth-gnashing also makes you very unpopular with your mate.) The causes are depression, strain, and repressed and controlled anger; overcoming these brings relief. I suffered them all, but I called it alcoholism, not bruxism. However, I did engage in a lot of figurative teeth-gnashing at the world in general and people in particular.

Until that time, I had not realized that my sense of humor was at a low ebb. I was taking myself too seriously. I'd also left a lot of gaps in my inventory. My vices and virtues were all mixed up. I now realize that I may never know all the reasons for my depressions. But I can turn them over, whatever they are. Before I go to sleep, I can ask my Higher Power to help me awake free of them. At first, it seemed a little strange not to feel depressed or to be thinking negatively. I was depressed over that for a time.

Gloom, depression, and negativism are terribly contagious. In their grip, I hurt others as well as myself. I made dumb decisions and refused to act when I should, just as I did when drinking. But laughter is also contagious, and so is good humor. They are part of being restored to sanity. I can see myself as I really am and become willing to help myself and to accept help from others. The ability to laugh at myself restores my capacity to be honest.

Even Thomas Edison had his low moments. It is written that he had a card on his desk reading: "When you are down in the mouth, remember Jonah; he came out all right."

Once more, I have come to believe that the AA program and especially the Twelve Steps can work for my depression as well as my alcoholism. I marvel that, for me, alcoholism and depression have much the same symptoms.

It is no wonder that the laughter in AA attracted me from the very beginning. The restorative power of laughter should never be underrated. I learned to laugh again in AA, and when I'm laughing, the whole world seems to smile at me. I have come to believe that I am being restored to sanity when my sense of humor is restored and I cease to take myself too seriously. I have only to turn my life and my will over to God--and my depression, too. AA is the most effective antidepressant I've found.

Of course, if that article I quoted from is correct, I'm not normal, because I am so happy in AA. Most of my AA friends won't know the difference. Anyway, I've been warned that if I ever do get well, I'll probably lose all my friends.

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