We are solitary creatures whose lives are as unknowable to others as they often are to ourselves. The messages I received early on suggested that there was a right way to be known, a correct way to be a person and I wasn’t being it. So, I looked to others as my barometer for how to be. This constant looking out to define myself based on the world’s idea of what was good and right was my attempt to become “normal”; to fit inside the world’s standards.
As I grew older I realized that I didn’t believe the concepts I was trying to match. Despite feeling like I was being human in the wrong way, somewhere inside me was a different definition of self, of being human, and it didn’t align with the world I lived in, but I was young and therefore assumed I was wrong, or that my beliefs were broken. The world I lived in measured and routed people by test scores, IQ, and grades. Because I didn’t test well, I was treated as though I was irregular, and because I didn’t meet the standards that were invented to define people, meant that I was the one who was wrong.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I began to question the validity of this expectation. Who said we were all supposed to be the same? Who said all our brains had to match? That we were ALL supposed to operate at the same levels, process things the same way, learn at the same rate? We look different from one another, we are different weights and sizes, that we should fit inside a standardized system belies understanding what it means to be human. We are variant and fluid. We change.
We are not objects (in fact, in some very significant ways we are subjects in a national social engineering project) and yet we are always striving to be inanimate in some way, hoping to arrive at a set level of happiness or ease forever, but that’s not how evolution works, nothing stays the same, not happiness nor sadness, not even disability. There is no one way to be, no one right way to live and to buy into the idea that there is means you’re living someone else’s flawed version of what it means to exist. The idea that there is a normal, or as the media says, a “new normal” is absurd. If you are working hard to be “normal” than you’re working toward matching a state that someone else decided is true. You’re working on becoming less you by striving to be “the same” as others, which is conceptual, and not practical.
We think we know who we are but most of us are wrong—who are we really but the internalized stories of others? So many of us buy into the story of ourselves that isn’t our own—but underneath, or over to the side, maybe even high up, a different self-state exists—one you think isn’t you, but is, it’s just an unfamiliar part of yourself, like the part that couldn’t swim before you learned, couldn’t sound out words you hadn’t yet heard. Once, you didn’t know, and then you did. That once part exists still for other things, but just because it’s not familiar doesn’t mean it’s not you.
When I talk to kids in school I tell them we need to create a new model for “normal.” We need to create a new model for what it means to be a human being. We need to make room in the world for people to tell their stories without being judged or discriminated against, and we can only do that by being brave enough to tell our own stories, or by being the safe person someone else can confide in. Everyone struggles with something, it’s human, it’s common, and it doesn’t mean you’re weird or broken. I go to schools and talk because I want everyone to live as human beings, not as inanimate objects, and the way to do that is to admit we suffer, to share our human stories of living through pain, telling others how we faced our fears, so they too can grow stronger and feel less ashamed. If we can make the invisible visible, and encourage one another to share our difficulties, then we can all grow into the story of ourselves that we get to tell, and not the story of ourselves we’re afraid might be true.