What a relief it was the day I found out I wasn't normal.
All my life I had been tired and sleepy, could not concentrate and had the most gosh-awful dreams anyone could imagine. I mean, bolting out of bed and screaming at the top of my lungs from crazy dreams.
Starting in high school, I noticed an every-other-year pattern develop. My freshman and junior years I was sharp, energetic and on top of everything. My sophomore and senior years I was in a muddle, though I did my best to put up a good front.
In my 20s, the pattern changed to every other six months. This wreaked havoc with my career in newspapers. During the good times I got promotions as a copy editor and during the bad times I wouldn't know it if my own name were misspelled.
By the time I was 30, I was so frustrated I left full-time employment and became a stay-at-home dad.
My wife had gone back to college, earned a master's degree in criminal justice and became a probation officer. I told myself I was going to concentrate on becoming a freelance writer, make money writing novels and plays. But the pattern changed again, and the bad times way outnumbered the good.
Doctors ran every test they could think of, and I had enough blood siphoned out of my body to make a vampire fat. It was anemia; no, it was chronic mononucleosis; no, it was anxiety; no, you just needed to get a job.
When I was reaching 50 and the end of my rope, I sat watching television one night with my wife. There was a report about people who kick and scream in their sleep. My wife looked at me and said, "That's you."
I went to a sleep clinic where they attached wires all over my head and watched me sleep one night. Then I got the diagnosis: I had Rapid Eye Movement sleep disorder. Two other people in Hernando County had been diagnosed with it. So that made three in more than 100,000 people.
REM sleep disorder is a malfunction of the brainstem mechanism resulting in the reduction of dopamine transporters, causing voluntary muscles to move and the brain to remain active.
I admit I copied that last paragraph from a scientific report. I don't understand this stuff, I just have to live with it.
The disorder was not even identified and named until 1986, and it was another 10 years after that I finally found the right doctor to tell me what I had. I am now on a sleeping pill and an antidepressant. Yes, I am one of those who normal people look down upon because I have to pop "happy" pills to get through the day.
The only thing is that they don't make me feel happy; they just help me function. I'm still responsible for making myself happy.
Actually, there is another thing. The people who think they are normal probably aren't. If you know someone you think is normal, you just don't know that person well enough yet.
I know people who have sleep apnea who can't breathe right at night and have fuzzy-head syndrome like me. I know people who have post-traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam War so bad they are on full disability. I know people with various kinds of bone ailments who get cussed at because they use handicapped parking. They may look like big, strapping, robust men, but on the inside their bones are minutely fractured and they can hardly walk at all.
A small, fortunate group is born with good genes to make them healthy, athletic, good-looking and, therefore, successful at everything they do.
We vast majority of people who aren't normal should pity them, for they lack compassion and mercy.
I think I prefer not to be normal.
Author Jerry Cowling lives in Brooksville.