This I Used To Believe

Not Normal

Normal. Webster’s defines normal as, “usual or ordinary: not strange.” Normal, such a simple term, nonchalantly uttered so often in everyday conversation making it nondescript. Your blood pressure is normal. That’s a normal thing. He led a normal life. Test results exhibited normal distribution. It’s normal for kids to do that. Normally our office hours are from nine to five. After five days all side effects will dissipate and normality will resume. Normal. Normally. Normality. So monotonously commonplace. Yet, for an extensive period of my life, normal appeared to be something that one was either born with, taught, or achieved. It took a run-in with a bubbly, fun-loving square-shaped, sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea to alter my views on what it means to be normal.
As a small child I was slightly different. With two older sisters having set a precedent, my parents knew what to expect of a normal pregnancy, child development and behavior. Two pregnancies behind her, Mom foresaw no issues and that all would progress normally. As is usually the case, prior expectations were not to be followed. Six weeks prior to delivery, test results indicated white blood cell levels were far below normal, making it an awfully real possibility that either Mom or I could bleed to death. Fortunately, with regular assessments by excellent medical professionals, all progressed normally, resulting in a delightfully, adorable normal daughter.
Summers came and winters faded as time perpetually marched forward. Mom comfortably situated in a chair stitching away on her handicraft, enjoys time to herself as Heidi and Nikki are out frolicking with friends. Next to her sits her little lamb perfectly content to play quietly with herself. This was a typical scene from my early childhood. While my sisters spent time running with friends, laughing loudly with juvenile innocence as any normal child would, I was at home within an arm’s reach of Mom, playing discreetly like my namesake. Besides remaining quietly unsociable and declining to walk of my own accord until the age of fourteen months, there was nothing to indicate that I was anything but normal. Yet with each passing year, small idiosyncrasies began to surface. First, it was an extreme aversion to loud sounds. Crying would ensue as I covered my ears tearfully, exclaiming it was too loud. Fireworks, airplanes, rodeos and similar venues or events were out of the question. To combat this and make it a possibility of attending such events it was of paramount importance to have earplugs. After loud noises it was water which was so akin to evil one would have thought I was a wicked witch for as much as I dreaded getting wet. Bath time meant desperately running around and hiding to evade it. By this I earned myself the nickname of Tigger as he too despised baths. What had previously been an endearing attachment to Mom and disinterest in socializing soon became a pressing concern on the part of my parents and a stumbling block in my behalf. Obsession with stuffed animals and stickers soon took over any remaining desire for friendship. Tantrums exploded as a result of seemly small issues, such as the tightness of my shoe laces or the brushing of my hair. However, all of this was simply chalked up to being the sensitive baby of the family.
This all changed when we moved to Germany. As a six year old I was enrolled in first grade, a time for normal kids to be excited yet slightly nervous that they are attending big kid school. Not in my case. It was a living nightmare for me and subsequently my parents. Extreme crying and desperate tantrums ensued as I pleaded with my parents not to force me to go. For a time Mom was usually able to coax me to go to class. However, this behavior quickly escalated in severity resulting in me running away from school, sometimes into the surrounding forest, in an attempt to evade capture and return. The resemblance to a terrified rabbit, sheer panic and fear visible in its eyes as it realizes a fox has cornered it was frightfully uncanny. A flashbulb memory, painfully searing across my mind is that of an awfully, pathetic child. She is dreadfully small and alone, desperately trying to navigate a strange and terrifying world. No respite to be found except in the warm embrace of her mother’s arms unable to explain why it was so. From here it only grew worse. My parents helplessly stood by watching as their sweet, beautiful, normal lamb steeply spiraled down further and further into the darkness of frightful abnormality.
Much energy and TLC was invested in me by my family in an attempt to return me to normality. Mom discussed my issues with the school administration, who were more than unwilling to help, resulting in Mom pulling me from public school and into homeschool where I could fill out workbooks under her constantly watchful eye. My ever loving sisters unceasingly took me under their wings, playing lots of animal memory and wondrous games in the woods with me and doing everything in their power to cheer me up. After work Dad treated me as any normal child, playing with me and reading stories which filled my mind with fantastical worlds into which I longed to step into and leave my fears behind. He also fostered my desire for knowledge by providing challenges for me to solve engaging my mind and turning my focus elsewhere. While all of this helped tremendously it was still apparent that professional aid was required.
Dr. Hardaway, a child physiatrist, was the first among many. After some observation of clinical signs and case history he offered the diagnosis of generalized depression and anxiety. While this gave my parents something to work with, it didn’t seem to fill the missing piece they were looking for. Some of his suggestions to combat my fears and anxieties were ridiculous such as having my parents physically restrain me until I calmed down. My parents flat out refused, the thought bringing to mind an image of a lion gripping the throat of a wildebeest as it strives to evade the death grip until it slowly suffocates and stops struggling. Despite these sometimes peculiar suggestions he did offer a lot of help, such as prescription medication, and enrollment in a new school. However, much of the help I received and benefited from came as a result of my parents following their gut instincts and trying everything they could to help control the fears and idiosyncrasies that held me back from normality. Thus, began the arduous journey on the “fix-it” highway, the way replete with potholes, mile markers of success and signposts pointing to normality and giving warnings as to its passing.
Normal kids don’t take antidepressants since the age of six. How about some Zoloft with that chocolate milk? Normal kids have real friends. This is my friend Sarah. Well this is my friend Bunny. Um you do realize he’s a green stuffed rabbit? And your point is? Normal ten year olds don’t read at a post graduate level. History of the Vikings anyone? Eye contact is a normal social gesture. I will now stare into the depths of your soul in a friendly, non-creepy fashion as a way to connect with you. Normally kids have already outgrown school separation anxiety by now. You are fifteen, now get out of the car and go to class. Normal kids aren’t so sensitive and quick to cry from offense as a result of comments from adult authorities. Where have you been? Whaaaaa! It’s normal for kids to participate and enjoy extracurricular activities. Dance, soccer, cheer, swimming? No thanks, I’ll pass. Reading so much instead of socializing is not normal. Books don’t judge and they’re portable. Normal kids actually have hand-eye coordination and reflexes. Hit in the face by another ball, what a surprise?! Normal teens don’t need to have a free pass to the guidance counselor because they are anxious. May I be please be excused? I am having a slightly major freak out. Teenagers normally want to date before they reach the age of sixteen. Get in the car and chat with a real boy, like as in a human, does my horse count instead? Normal kids watch who knows what. After Jeopardy I think I will watch a documentary on the building of the Roman Empire followed by some cartoons. A high attachment to mother is not normal for one of her age. What apron strings? Oh you mean the ones that I am tightly gripping to? Seeing so many different counselors is not normal. Hi, my name is Dr. Jones…, Yeah, Yeah, just to get to the part where you fix me. It is not normal to be referred to as an enigma by my counselor of two years. Do you think you could have told me this like, umm I don’t know, twenty-three months ago? Obsessive behavior over certain aspects, such as clothing and food is not normal. This shirt is .3333 cm too short and the fabric is scratchy. I can’t eat this! It’s been contaminated by garlic! Being anxious over little things is not normal. I have to go to the store and buy socks. Ok inhale for four, exhale for six and repeat. Normal, normal, normal. My life became one lacking in normalcy, so much so that I began to think of and view myself as not normal, basing my identity around this belief. I desired so much to be taught how to be normal and attain the status of normality. Where did one go to learn how to be normal? It appeared that everyone had attended Normality 101, but I had missed the memo. Or perhaps in heaven I had skipped the line to be endowed with normality. I strove to become normal, to cast off my peculiarities so I could join the ranks of normal. I felt insecure and ashamed of my quirks and foibles, trying to hide them from others and assume the guise of normalcy, but like a leopard pretending to be a tiger it never quite worked.
Days faded into weeks and years full of unsatisfactory answers from bystanders and professionals alike as to the reason for my abnormality. Frustration, patience, moments of small accomplishments, and continued seeking for understanding marked the passing of time as I resigned myself to live in a tunnel of a not normal life. It cannot be said that I wasn’t happy because I was. Yet the puzzle of my life contained pieces that didn’t quite fit where they were placed along with several pieces missing. A marriage counselor deftly provided the missing piece. Autism. At the age of seventeen I found myself on the high end of the autistic spectrum. Turns out that I wasn’t normal. Finally the missing pieces were filled in and a clear image of the puzzle of my life became clear. I received specialized assistance. True, some of it came too late as I had already formulated my own coping skills, but much of it was greatly appreciated on my part and even more so on the part my family. Struggles still came and I was never completely comfortable with the label of my diagnosis, but it was more to work with than had previously been available. Nevertheless, a niggling belief that surely now normality was in my grasp, still germinated below the surface.
Flopped out in my reserved spot on the pluffy couch, gooey doughnut in hand, and surrounded by three small dogs, I grabbed and aimed the TV remote, the screen blinking to life. Flicking through channels I stumbled across SpongeBob Squarepants, a show I invariably loved despite the nonsense of it all. Taking a bite of doughnut I lackadaisically settled back to engage in some mindless entertainment before pursuing normal activities. The episode started out with the usual silly antics of SpongeBob driving sarcastic, intellectual Squidward to the brink causing him to accuse SpongeBob of not being normal. My ears perked up; there was that word that had haunted me since childhood. More attentive now I sat up doughnut forgotten in hand as I watched the episode unfold. Upset by this accusation, SpongeBob procured a self-help guide entitled, A Journey into Normality. He followed the advice and over time became a dull version of his previously boisterous self. Physically he transformed into a round, smooth version with proportional facial features along with thick straight appendages; nothing like the wavy, porous, big eyed, nosed and toothed sponge with wiggly arms and legs. No jelly-fishing, bubble-blowing, making of Krabby Patties, or any other nonsense. Just plain normality working behind a computer with absolutely no personality. Soon everyone around him, even Squidward, became annoyed with new normal SpongeBob, driving his attempt to regain what he had lost. With the aid of Patrick the starfish and some very strange activities it appeared as though he would return to his former bubbly self, but alas he was to be doomed to a normal life. That is until the astonishment of seeing normal Squidward shocked him back to his prior, not normal self.
Tropical music then ensued signaling the end of the episode. Stunned I sat back, took a thoughtful and final bite of doughnut as three eager eyed dogs looked on, pondering what I had just seen. To be normal is to be boring, to be bubbly and quirky is to be amazing. Everything I had believed growing up was blown away in eleven minutes by a talking sponge. Did I want to resign myself to normality or embrace my quirkiness? I realized that, no I don’t want to be normal; I want to be me, be Gemma. Quirky Gemma, shy Gemma, crazy Gemma, anxious Gemma (well to an extent), “I -don’t- eat-that” Gemma, giggly Gemma, witty Gemma, geeky Gemma, just Gemma. Surrounded by highly disappointed dogs, I resigned that I would be Gemma, no more of this normal stuff.
Some six months have passed since that spongy day. Through a large mental shift I have come to embrace myself, all the quirks and insecurities, and I love it so! Just the other day my sister inquired as to why I did something a certain quirky way. The explanation I provided caused her to laugh as she thought it was kind of silly. In retort I told her that if I didn’t have these sorts of eccentricities then what would my family have to chuckle at? What would life be like without silly Gemma to cheer them up? Normal? No, I am not normal, but that is how I like it.

Works Cited
“Normal.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2014.

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