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we’re all “not normal”

May 14, 2009

I receive my horoscope (Cancer) via email each day from Daily Om. For entertainment purposes only, of course. Today, it states the obvious:

“You might feel sensitive and disagreeable today and find yourself reacting emotionally to the opinions and comments of others. This could cause you to feel somewhat irritable and moody when interacting socially, and you may want to work on getting your emotions under control in order to ease your sensitivity.”

Thanks for the advice. It’s not just today. These two sentences sum up the story of my life. Sensitive. Disagreeable. Irritable. Moody. But they make it sound like a bad thing. It can (and does) get tricky if you have to live with me, but since most of you don’t, I may be able to get away with saying that sensitivity and incorrigibility are assets (absent the “nobody-likes-me-i’ll-eat-worms” kind of sensitivity, absent the belligerent brand of debate).

Remember “sugar and spice and everything nice”? (I was always jealous that boys got “snips and snails and puppy dog tails,” by the way.) We’re lead to believe we’re each given an equal measure of sugar and spice, but that’s not how it works. I can be sweet (after borrowing a cup of sugar from my neighbor) (after borrowing cups of sugar from several of my neighbors, actually), but it takes an effort. Other people are naturally kind and gentle, and it takes great effort for them to get their hackles up. Life requires both approaches. We work with what we’re given because we really have no other choice.

I’ve written before about how moodiness, sensitivity and rumination have really helped me as a poet and visual artist. Even in their extreme manifestations (clinical mood disorders) they are useful to me. I’d rather live feeling everything intensely, even painfully, than to have softer edges, because when the joy comes, it knocks me over, too. It is the yin and the yang. I used to believe balance meant achieving an even keel. That may be true for some, but for me, balance is the recognition of trade-offs and tides and tilting planets.

There’s an article in the May 18 issue of Newsweek called “Listening to Madness” by Alissa Quart. (I’m not going to lie: I read it in my therapist’s waiting room.) (Actually, I “borrowed” it.) The subhead reads, “Why some mentally ill patients are rejecting their medications and making the case for ‘mad pride.'” (The online version of the article contains some patients’ artwork.) Here’s a piece of one by Will Hall called “Voices, Visions and Cage.”

don't want normal

Hall is part of a group called the Icarus Project (Manhattan). The article describes the group’s philosophy: “Welcome to Mad Pride, a budding grassroots movement, where people who have been defined as mentally ill reframe their conditions and celebrate unusual (some call them “spectacular”) ways of processing information and emotion.” It points out that while many members balk at medication, they use other tools to work with their conditions, including creative outlets, yoga, exercise, dietary modifications and support groups. It asks, “Why are we so keen to correct every little deficit?”

There are many facets to the debate: Is there a stereotype about creative people? Is it dangerous to allow people to live to that stereotype? Should a person be forced to accept treatment if it saves her life? It’s a debate I don’t want to have. How a person decides to manage any diagnosis is intimate and personal. It’s between them and their doctor and their families. Do we dictate to cancer patients what course they must take and how long they’re required to fight? No. We hold them with great affection, and we honor the life they choose to live for as long as they can live it.

I’m an artist and a writer and so I’m interested in what’s true for me as I experience my world. Yes, sometimes it’s miserable to feel miserable. Yes, sometimes I freak out and want help. But the insight, the edge, the drive, the perspective, the rise, the fall — I am not me without them.

We’re all “not normal” to varying degrees. And thank goodness.

  1. May 18, 2009 1:37 am

    Great post……..sorry I’ve not been round, I forgot to googleyreader this place *rolleyes*, thought I had and assumed you weren’t posting.

  2. May 20, 2009 9:23 am

    Love the new site — beautiful header.

    This is a fascinating argument. As you say, it’s a personal decision but it’s a topic that’s bound to cause controversy.

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