Tag Archives: normal

A perfect storm

Actor Robin Williams took his own life today. By all accounts an extremely funny, extremely intelligent person, he lost a battle with depression. I’m probably more upset by this than I have any right to be — Mr. Williams being an actor and a public figure whom I enjoyed does not mean that he belongs to me in any sense. It doesn’t seem right to eulogize someone I have never, and now will never, meet, despite his featuring prominently in the entertainment landscape of my childhood. Maybe it’s just that his humor resonated with me, because I see similarities to my own sense of humor… and maybe because his actions today resonate with me, also.

Seems to me that it goes something like this: A good sense of humor is an indication of intelligence. Intelligence is a predisposing factor to depression and mental illness. People who are depressed are also more likely to be humorous, probably as a result of their higher intelligence and perhaps as a result of coping mechanisms developed to mitigate their depression.

Smart people are also marginalized in our society. Those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses are likewise stigmatized. We use humor to deflect and cover up our wounds, and then we suffer quietly. Alone. As we spend more time alone, we are observed to be introverted. People who are introverted, on the whole, seem to be less desirable companions and are therefore sought out less by their peers. In the end, you get a bunch of smart, suffering, funny people with no close friends.

And then we kill ourselves because human beings aren’t meant to be islands (Bon Jovi had that right) but what choice does a person have when their territory is being colonized by naysayers and doubters and people who, in general, just want to make you feel bad for being who you are and enjoying what you like.

Seriously. Fuck those people.

This is what being a Stigma Fighter is about. Standing up to the unenlightened masses who would prefer to see a greatly homogenized culture instead of embracing and celebrating our differences, mental illness included. I wonder if Mr. Williams, had he known about our mission, would have joined us. Something tells me he might have done just that.

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An embrace

When I was in high school, I was not massively popular. In fact, being what I affectionately term as “prematurely middle aged”, I was often teased and mocked for my word choice (what writers and other linguaphiles would call “voice”), in addition to my overall manner. With a few notable exceptions, high school was not a happy time.

Reflecting on that now, though, it is difficult to say if the observations of my philistine classmates, cruel as they were meant to be, were entirely inaccurate. After all, I do use “big words” when more average vocabulary would suffice (see the above use of the word “philistine” in place of “childish ass-hats”). I’m not a partier, I’m not especially adventurous, and I’m typically only extroverted when I am in my element. One classmate of mine, whose face and name have faded into obscurity leaving only his words behind, said that my demeanor reminded him of an old lady sitting down for tea. He added to the overall picture of this meaning by pantomiming sipping from a teacup and holding a saucer, both pinkies out, pursing his lips prudishly.

At the time, it bothered me. He had pressed upon a long-standing insecurity of mine: I am not normal. And how I desperately longed to be normal. I wanted so badly to be accepted by my peers and by my family, I often hid or transformed my interests to be more palatable to the people I wished to impress. When it came to my peers, “fitting in” meant abandoning healthy, productive interests in favor of lukewarm baddassery: smoking, skipping school, majoring in Boyfriendology, and finally landing myself on probation. I would drive my life into the ground to prove to these people that I was as young and carefree as they were, if not more so. (Being a latch-key child sure helped, in this instance.)

But I suppose this young man wasn’t all wrong. Now as an adult, I belong to a group of women who gather regularly to sip tea from old china teacups (though few would accuse us of being prudish, as our conversations can quickly devolve from bawdy humor to downright dick jokes). Sometimes we even wear funny Sunday hats while we do it. I have found I’m happiest and most confident when I’m done up to look like I walked out of a 50’s hair salon. I’m embracing and making peace with my inner old lady, complete with a personal collection of antique teacups.

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Rather than being normal, I’d like only to be embraced for my differences, as I will seek to embrace others. After all, who am I trying to impress anymore? And what, pray tell, is “normal”? As another brilliant and insecure woman once said, normal is a curse word. It is a social construct that we hold over our heads and those of the creative, off-beat souls who frighten us with their bravery to be different. Despite the time and energy I have spent over my lifetime hiding or obscuring it, I am different. And even though I have wasted wishes on aspirations of sameness — same as my family, same as my peers, same as my heroes — I’m coming to be quite pleased with our differences.