What is Normal?

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Cynthia Kim

Português

In our desire to fit in we all have wished to have a different type of hair, be skinnier or curvier, be more of an extrovert or be quieter, be taller or shorter. It is about this desire to fit in that Cynthia Kim wrote in this piece. And it is not difficult to relate to it, to almost everyone, in or out of the autism spectrum.

Cynthia Kim was had her Asperger’s Syndrome diagnoses when she was 43 years old and since then she has published two books and many articles on the subject. She keeps the blog “Musings of an Aspie” where this piece was first published.

The Seductive Illusion of Normal

Ninety-eight percent of the time I’m good with being autistic. I was going to say “fine with being autistic” or “okay with being autistic” but I don’t want to use tepid adjectives. I really truly feel good about myself most of the time.

Then there’s the other two percent. The hard, ugly, maybe I shouldn’t be saying this but I’m wishing for normal two percent.

When I was four or five years old, I wished I was a boy. Boys got to roughhouse and play cool sports and go shirtless in the summer.

I tried the shirtless thing. It landed me in trouble, though as far as I could tell I looked no different from the shirtless boys in the neighborhood. Later, I hung around the pick-up games and sometimes the older kids let me play. I learned to throw a tight spiral and catch a long pass no matter how bad it made my ice-cold hands sting afterward. Eventually, I learned to fight.

The desire to be a boy faded.

In third grade, I wished my curly hair was straight like Marsha Brady’s. All of the cool older girls-and by older I was thinking fifth graders–had straight hair. Somehow, it seemed like straight hair would magically make me popular.

A couple of years later “Farrah Fawcett hair” was all the rage, and if I spent enough time with my mother’s blow dryer and roller brush, I could feather my hair perfectly. It didn’t make me popular but it cured me of the illusion that better hair was the key to eternal happiness.

I’ve wished for other things over the years. To be taller: more clothing choices. To be more coordinated: I didn’t make the cut for high school sports. To be more feminine: I’m not sure why, exactly.

As I’ve gotten older, the wishes have become more amorphous.

Now I find myself trying to sort out where this wishing to be normal falls. Is it like wishing for Marsha Brady hair–that one elusive change that will make me magically popular? Or is it like wishing to be a boy so I can play shirtless in the summer?

Surprisingly, I think it’s more of the latter–more of a practical wish. You see, when I most find myself wishing to be normal is when I see the people around me struggling with the–well, for lack of a better term, let’s call it the side effects of my autism.

I don’t live in a vacuum. I say and do stuff. People around me are affected by it. Even though they know I struggle with certain things–they know this logically. That doesn’t prevent them from being affected by my words or actions or lack of words or actions.

This is when the wish to be normal sneaks up and grabs me.

I’m using normal and not neurotypical here for a reason. Normal is an illusion and I know it’s the illusion that I’m wishing for at these times. I’m not wishing for a different neurology so much as a fantasy version of life.

It’s easy to be seduced by the idea that being normal would solve everything, that it would make the lives of the people around me easier. But, of course it wouldn’t. We’d have some other problems instead, because life is like that.

And still it’s there, born out of frustration and insecurity, of a sense of never quite being good enough or right enough or just plain enough.

Maybe it’s a self-esteem issue. Mine has never been especially good. I seesaw between overconfidence and underconfidence, with no idea where the sweet spot in-between lies. Does anyone truly know this? I’m not sure.

I’m not sure it even matters. This will all pass. It always does.

At some point, I see the illusion for what it is, and the desire fades.

It always has.

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