Breaking free of the concept of normal

It’s hard for me to break free of the idea of normal.  As much as I know that there is no real setting or standard for normal. Perhaps there is a typical, a median, but not a normal in the sense of “this is the right way to be.”  Or as in, “Why are you doing that?  That’s not normal.”

I don’t consider myself typical in many ways, either.

Still, I measure myself against social standards, against my own high standards, and often fall short.  I have been the overachiever type, the perfectionist who tries and tries and succeeds.  However, I generally lose momentum and stamina eventually.  It’s not that my effort is wasted, exactly – I have had experiences where I have learned so much – but it’s exhausting.  I have worked hard.  And I have been striving at the cost of myself and my life force energy.

So far, I have burnt out five times in my adult life, to the point of feeling fatigued, ill, and/or depressed.  Last year was the worse, and a breaking point for me.

I don’t want to do this anymore.  Perhaps I am being cautious, but I fear that I will never be able to hold a “normal” shift-oriented job, at least not sustainably. In a culture where “What do you do?” comes after an initial introduction, I find it challenging to accept that I may need to find another way, at least for now, and maybe in the long term.  Knowing more about myself, in terms of sensory processing and mental health issues, has helped.  But still, the thoughts that I should be pursuing something else, something more, nag at me.

I am finding another way, I tell myself.  I am doing my art and jewelry and building up my business. It may not be that profitable right now.  I have time.  I have a small source of income, enough to cover my bills. I have a partner who supports me in finding and having a vocation that is supportive for me. I am currently living with a parent who is also supportive.  I am doing therapy and occupational therapy.  I am regularly doing Nia.  I am doing a lot, and I am doing things that will help me in the long term.

It’s challenging not to feel discouraged.  It’s challenging not to push myself.  I know that thinking in terms of “I can’t” and “never” aren’t helpful.  And it’s also important to be realistic:  it may be best for me to work and live in an environment I create for myself, or at least where I have autonomous control.  That may require creativity, supplemental education, and persistence.

I know the rabbit hole of rumination, doubt, and discouragement can lead to a much darker place.  I don’t want to return there. The idealist in me wants to believe.  The cynic in me says, “Hold on, wait. Look at this, evaluate it, see what’s practical and feasible.”

In the end, I don’t have to be normal or typical.  I am figuring out what it means to have my particular gifts and limitations.  I am learning how to advocate for myself.  I am building a life that makes sense for me.  I may need to remind myself of this again and again, and practice acceptance until it really sinks in.

Rachel S. Schneider of Coming to My Senses recently shared one of her articles – a letter to adults newly diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.  This line struck me:  “The power is in the cognitive shift from I am a disaster to I am unique, from I can’t handle anything to I can handle many things a certain way.”  

I am learning how to handle and do things my way.  I am learning to value myself for who I am, not who I strive to be – and that is what matters most.  


One response to this post.

  1. Many years ago I had a friend who used to say she intended to live an “unconventional life” which she felt would lead to interesting experiences and make her a richer person. How boring it is, she said, if we are all the same, all doing the same things.


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