Defining normal

Two years ago my worst fear was confirmed.

I’d been having troubles involving some friends of mine. This wasn’t new–for this group, yes, but it was part of a recurring pattern that I’d noticed over the years.  I’d thought I had finally managed to break free of it, but clearly I was wrong. I realized I needed help if I was going to break the cycle, and was referred to a behavioural therapist. After a few sessions, she diagnosed me with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism).

This fit some things I already knew in the worst way possible.  Everyone wants to be normal, and I’m no exception. I’d had various minor troubles in the past, but I always told myself that if I just tried harder things would work out. This broke that illusion for me. I wasn’t normal. I was abnormal. I was weird. I was broken. Something truly was wrong with me.

As much as we try to tell ourselves that we prize diversity, we don’t. Just try it–go outside and do something harmless but unusual.  I’ll wait. *taps foot* Back already? The police what? Oh, well…anyways, you just experienced what I’ve dealt with my whole life. We all feel pressure to be ‘normal’, from the clothes we wear to the jobs we take to the words we use. Sometimes we can be different and get away with it to a degree–we’re labeled as ‘quirky’. Other times we become social pariahs. If we’re not what society decides is normal we’re told to change, and the more we ‘resist’ (if being unable to comply counts as resisting) the less anyone wants to do with us.

So this diagnosis was a frightening thing for me.  I wanted to resist it, but I also wanted to learn more. So I started looking. And what I found was more people like me. People who have dealt with the same things in life I have. People who are just as confused, if not more so, than I am. People who have never been able to ‘fit in’.

I also found people comforting each other, relaying experiences, giving advice. And more than that, I found people who refused to be labeled as ‘broken’. They were different and wanted to be respected for that. They wanted society to learn to work with them and their differences rather than requiring that they conform to it’s standards. I was no longer alone–there was a large community of people like me, people who accepted themselves as who they are and who wanted society to walk the walk of being accepting of differences.

After a while, I was no longer scared. I was different–I’d long known that–but I wasn’t broken. There was nothing wrong with me. I’d already learned to accept myself for who I was, and being diagnosed didn’t change that. I was still me, but I’d gained a framework to work within. I had a new way to look at myself, that took the bits and pieces that felt out of place and gave them a place to reside. I became better able to understand myself, how I related to others and how they related to me. Instead of fear, the diagnosis brought me comfort.

And after a while, I started to feel…normal.

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