The Illusion of Normal

For years I believed there was something wrong with me. I can’t quite pinpoint when this thought started, but I suspect it was sometime in early childhood, probably due to some combination of a variety of factors including my sensitive disposition, moving between two drastically different cultures, a traumatic experience at boarding school, and being the victim of bullying, to name a few. 

The seed was planted early on. I wanted so desperately to be “normal”. I can remember when we finally moved from Thailand to the United States permanently, my mom tried to get me to keep up with my Thai, and I refused. I remember saying to her, “I just want to fit in. I just want to be like everybody else.” 

I didn’t know that “normal” was an illusion. 

I felt anxious and weird, but I didn’t understand what I was feeling. After years of struggling, things did start to get better into high school as I adjusted. I began to feel like I was fitting in, I began to feel “normal”. But I think the anxiety was hiding under the surface for a long time. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t there, because I was deeply ashamed of it. Because I felt like it meant I was flawed, like I was weak. Acknowledging it wasn’t an option. 

But you can only fake it so long. That’s the thing about anxiety. It’s trying to tell you something and ignoring it doesn’t really work. It starts as a whisper and if you don’t address it, it becomes a scream…something you can’t ignore. 

Fast forward to my mid-twenties and my first therapy session after my anxiety finally bubbled up to the surface, and burst, leaving me symptomatic and totally confused as to what was happening to me. 

Almost immediately, my therapist identified a recurring thought pattern as I was talking to her. She said, “What I keep hearing you say is that you’re really afraid something is wrong with you.”

It was and still is probably my core fear. I couldn’t pinpoint this thought for myself, but as soon as she said it, a lightbulb went off. The thought had been ever present for as long as I could remember. So much so, that it was automatic. 

My therapist explained that this fear of being labeled as “abnormal” was a deeply ingrained fear, a neural network, one in which I would have to become aware of and intercept as often as I could.

It was hard work at first, and honestly, this thought still creeps up and gets me from time to time, but now I can recognize and question it and wrestle with it. It doesn’t sneak by, unchecked, anymore. 

I think it’s natural to not want to feel alone. It’s a great comfort knowing that someone else has felt the way you have. But it’s also important to accept and embrace your uniqueness, because in the end, there’s no one else on earth quite like you. There’s no such thing as normal, because we’re all different. And thank God for that. Normal is an illusion. 

But anxiety symptoms can make us feel like we’re crazy, like there is something wrong with us, like we’re the only one in the world experiencing this. This, like everything else your anxiety tells you, is a lie.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: You’re not alone in your struggle with anxiety, no matter the symptoms, thoughts, and feelings that may arise. You are unique, but you are not alone. You are not flawed. There’s no such thing as normal. 

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