After my episodes, I struggled with hearing and using the word normal. It was a loaded word because since the time I had been depressed in middle school and nearly killed myself – to the time shortly after my two episodes of schizoaffective disorder – everyone had called me everything except normal. I was constantly categorized as weird or different. I knew I had issues which I didn’t know how to resolve but I had no clue how to fix them. I was constantly told that I was not normal and my behavior wasn’t normal.
The constant reminders from others that I wasn’t normal caused a lot of problems for me growing up. It shaped my identity in a sense that I thought of myself as weird and this created an inclination for me to be a lot different than everyone else. My parents always told me that I don’t have to be the same as everyone else and that I’m different. This was particularly reinforced when my friends weren’t doing the right things and my parents wanted me to deviate from the group. Being considered not normal wasn’t necessarily a terrible thing for me growing up – especially at the times when I decided to do what was right instead of fitting in. However, I really struggled with not being able to fit in and with being different. I had issues from the time I was in middle school which affected the way I socialized. Being picked on to the point where I nearly committed suicide made me extremely socially awkward and different and I didn’t know how to change my behavior to be like everyone else, fit in, and be normal. I was picked on constantly for being different all the way into college and it was emotionally painful and difficult to bear. Being different was something I wanted to change about myself so I could be like everyone else but I didn’t know how.
Over the years the connotation of the word normal had built up inside my mind. It was an easy word to use because it could categorize almost anything. Growing up there were two ways something could be and that was normal or weird. The people who considered themselves good people associated everything they did with normalcy. Normalcy became a word that allowed people to do the things everyone else was doing simply because everyone else was doing them. One of the problems I faced when I was in the fraternity at the start of my first episode was when the brothers didn’t have other people’s best interest in mind but they tried to normalize their behavior by saying everyone does it. This included binge drinking and fighting with other people. Their rationalization for their behavior was that it was “normal” meaning everyone did it. The one thing most kids at that age wanted to be was popular and accepted by the group, including me, therefore they’d go to any lengths to fit in and to do what was considered normal. It might have been normal for guys in the frat to fight and binge drink but it’s not necessarily a good or healthy thing for humans to do. The pledges who were new and wanted to fit in began to copy the behavior of binge drinking, doing drugs, and fighting and this “normalized behavior” became prevalent simply because people thought there was righteousness in it from everyone doing it. I had a huge problem with drinking in college and that was one of the reasons I became averted to doing what was considered normal in later years.
Another problem I had was that at 19 years old, right before I joined the frat, I didn’t know the reasons for doing or not doing anything. I had just been doing what I thought other people would consider to be “normal” instead of thinking of cause and effect or considering the true reasons to do things. I was focused on fitting in with everyone else instead of focusing on doing good things. Doing good instead of just trying to be like everyone else was helpful for me in later years. However, in earlier years I got in a lot of trouble trying to be like everyone else instead of doing what I knew to be the right thing. I also had some painful moments where I did do the right thing but it wasn’t what everyone else was doing. They called me weird and themselves normal simply because they didn’t want to admit they were wrong and change their own behavior. Doing the right thing and being categorized as weird was difficult, however, it was the right thing to do. In later years I learned to shy away from people who wanted to do what was ‘normal’ instead of doing what was right. It took a little time but I made friends who were just as “weird” as me and actually had a conscience.
During and after my episodes of schizoaffective disorder it was particularly painful to hear the word normal. I always replaced the word normal with ‘regular” because I hated the word so much. In my mind I had no way of being normal or being like everyone else because of the psychosis and symptoms I was experiencing. At times, I felt jealous.In some
In some way, I could see that their minds were functioning well and mine wasn’t and they considered themselves normal and me weird. I was jealous that I couldn’t function the way they could and interact in a normal way socially. The thing I didn’t realize was that I had issues from my middle school depression influencing my behavior which were deep within my unconscious mind along with issues from my episodes. It took several years of journaling and talk therapy to fish out all those thoughts and work my way backward from the time my second episode ended to the times where I was in middle school being picked on and being made fun of by everyone. However, in the years following the second episode, I still had an aversion to the word normal. I defined the word as being “average” and I hated hearing it. Part of it was living in the frat and my experience with being categorized as different and/or weird while growing up. Also, I had aspirations to be great at whatever it was I was going to do and being average wasn’t within my plans.
However, there was a different sense to the word normal that I hadn’t yet come across: Normal could also mean being healthy and functional. During my recovery, I wrote things in my journal like “sometimes it’s good to be normal and do normal things; be nice about this”. Writing this allowed me to not judge myself for being normal and it helped to lift my own self-judgments I had regarding behaviors and actions that were normal. For a while, I didn’t want to be normal because it was painful to me. I learned that there was a connotation surrounding normal built up over years of hearing it that actually referred to being healthy, doing good, and doing what was right. When I adhered to this version of normal it helped me. I learned that sometimes people were simply categorizing actions as weird and/or normal because they were being tactful. In reality, normal sometimes meant that someone was doing the right thing and weird meant that they weren’t necessarily doing what was right.
The irony of being different than others was that I felt inclined to do things my own way instead of just fitting in. I didn’t mind going above and beyond and standing out from the group. While younger, I used to get mad at my parents for telling me that I was different than others but they wanted me to become as good a person as I could be and they knew that meant not necessarily fitting in or just doing what my friends were doing all the time. It meant deviating from the group at times. Because of this and their efforts to instill good values in me, I had an abnormally great work ethic which helped me in sports and while growing up. During sports practices, everyone used to call me “hero” to mock the way I worked but building that work ethic at a young age was important. That work ethic was what ultimately saved my life after my two episodes of schizoaffective disorder and also helped me to fully recover from schizoaffective disorder and its sometimes dire circumstances.
Photo by Tripp