Living each day much muchier
“What a lonely island you’ve been,” the therapist brimmed with compassion, her head tilted to one side and a small furrow forming between her brows. It was the end of our session and I’d been matter-of-factly trotting out the details of a life spent largely alone, even inside relationships. No wonder I am anxious all the time. Things fall over catastrophically, at any moment. They have already, several times. I rebuilt myself, over and over, with only the limited resources of my lonely island to rely on.
Truth is, I don’t know how to be in the world. That doesn’t matter when I’m by myself, but when under observation, I feel compelled to act normal. You’ve seen the slapstick movie scenes where people are urged to ‘act normal’. There’s no such thing. It can’t be done when you actively try.
“What IS normal?” the therapist asks me and I’m unable to define it effectively. To me, normal is little more than a bunch of socially acceptable scripts and poses. A normal day is one where I put on my normal person suit with her pre-programmed scripts. Pull the little cord in my back and hear me say things like “I’ve been really busy lately.” and “something something wine something something. Hahaha.”
“That doesn’t sound appealing at all. Why would you want to be normal?” she asks me again.
Up to the age of 10, every night, my Mum would sit by my bed and help me pray for a friend. Beyond that, I was home schooled through most of high school. So, I was weird. Weird and lonely. At 16, I made a conscious decision to learn how to act. I watched people. I watched their interactions, their mannerisms, and the words they chose.
Normal teenager scripts were easy enough to observe and normal adult ones still are. If life has gone relatively well, it’s requests to confirm that the choices we’ve made are reflected by other people making the same choices. If it hasn’t, it’s requests to acknowledge that life is somehow against us and we never get what we want. That’s the deep stuff going on under the scripts. On the surface, it’s all weather, alcohol, TV, busyness, vanity, health virtue signalling and if I’m lucky, cats.
I know this is a disservice to people. Under the surface, there is buried treasure of all kinds, but you have to trade lines in the script for a long time before you get there, if you get there. My favourite people are those who barely bother with scripts at all.
I feel the most anxious when the stakes are high and I’m afraid I don’t have enough resources on my lonely little island to be successful-normal. I avoid people I perceive as ‘the cool crowd’, because they’re the experts in normal and they’ll see right through me. I’m super anxious when I have to unpack emotions for someone who won’t face them, interpret passive aggression or feel so swept up in someone else’s personal narrative that I’m scarce more than a social prop. I can barely compensate for myself, let alone both for us. These situations are everywhere socially and in the workplace. There’s no getting away from them. So I am anxious.
I’m anxious when I feel like I don’t have enough, that I am not enough, to make something work and it all rests on me.
Every aspect is a purposefully concocted, if inelegantly acted, stage production of normal. I don’t even begin to know how to be authentic in the world. Does anyone, or are we all just well-practiced, lonely islands in the people sea?
“No, the safest thing is to become an island. To make your house a citadel against all the garbage and ugliness in the world. How else can you be sure of anything?”
“The Warrior knows that no man is an island.
He cannot fight alone; whatever his plan, he depends on other people. He needs to discuss his strategy, to ask for help, and, in moments of relaxation, to have someone with whom he can sit by the fire, someone he can regale with tales of battle.”