Trying to Understand ‘Normal’ With Mental Illness

This is going to be an open letter from one schizophrenic man to chronically normal people at large.  Or, at least, to the handful of you who happen to read these passages.  It is not meant to be angry or ranting.  Instead, think of it as a few honest questions about why you do what you do.  As a mentally ill man, I want to try to understand you neurotypical people a little better.  Yes, much of this will be tongue and cheek.  But these are questions I have nonetheless.

Dear Mr. and Ms. Normal, If I may be honest with you, as a mentally ill man I do not understand you.  I do not understand how you think or why you act the ways you do.  I do not understand why you socialize the way you do.  I do not come even close to understanding your office politics.  I would love to have at least some insight into mysterious ways of the normal.

The way you think is somehting I don’t understand.  I consider myself relatively intelligent, at least above average.  But there are things about your thought process I don’t get.  I have a hard time understanding why you normals may know what is good for you yet don’t act on it.  It makes sense why I, as a schizophrenic, don’t always know what’s best as I have a few voices in my mind competing for my attention. These voices are often giving contradictory advice.  I have voices in my mind that don’t agree on anything that not only argue with me, but often with each other.  As far as I can tell, you neurotypicals don’t have this disadvantage.  So I can’t figure out why you don’t always act in ways that benefit you and those around you.  You don’t hold several different opinions at the same time, do you?  So what is your excuse for knowing what is good but not acting on it?  You have only one voice within your mind, right?  Or is cognitive dissonance a bigger problem with the chronic normal than with the mentally ill?  I’m hopelessly confused.  Somebody please help me 🙂

The word schizophrenia is derived from a word meaning ‘split mind.’  Not only does my mind have a hard time perceiving the difference between what others say and what they actually mean, but I also have an inability to accurately read and understand a person’s body language and voice inflection.  Body language I simply cannot read.  If someone tries to tell me something with their body language, they just as well be speaking ancient Egyptian.  I also have problems interpreting voice inflections in that my default mode of operation is to assume most people are not happy with me and are actually quite disgusted with me.  It is my experience that when my boss or any authority figure wants to talk with me one on one, they are doing it to tell me what I’m doing wrong and that I am in serious trouble.  I’ve had too many of these less than constructive criticism sessions to believe you have anything but malicious intent when you do call me onto your turf to chat.  It is never for small chit chat or for them to tell me how thrilled they are with my work.  As a result, I don’t trust authority figures of any kind.  I can only guess where they are coming from and what their motives are.

I am unable to get inside someone’s head and try to figure out what they are thinking.  Yet, I feel like my mind’s a completely open children’s picture book for all comers to pick apart and dissect.  So, please understand how paranoid this makes me feel.  I know this is just my mental illness distorted view of looking at things, but I really feel like I am at a severe disadvantage in any social situation because you chronic normals ‘know’ what I am thinking whereas I can only guess what you are thinking.  Imagine what it would be like for you to be interrogated by the police and the cops haven’t yet told you what they are accusing you of.  I feel exactly like this every time an authority figure or coworker wants to talk with me in private and they refuse to tell me what it’s about.  In short, I hate office politics.  My inability to understand the game of office politics  that you chronic normals know by heart is one of the reasons I don’t have a regular job anymore.  It may be just a game to you neurotypicals, but for most of us mentally ill it isn’t fun and games.  And it never will be because you normals are apparently born knowing these rules and we the mentally ill aren’t.

As little as I understand the games of office politics and social interaction, I don’t understand the games of dating at all.  I wasn’t born knowing these rules.  No one bothered to sit me down and explain the rules of dating.  Or maybe it was explained during one of the ten days or so I missed from school between the ages of six and eighteen.  I missed very few days during my school career, but I apparently missed some extremely important material during those days.  Why couldn’t I have missed the days of school when all we discussed was the difference between ameobas and diatoms or when we were discussing anti-trust laws in the gilded age?  I would much rather know how to tell if a woman wanted me to ask her out then who was president when the Standard Oil trust was busted up.  I really have had practically no success with dating.  And it wasn’t just getting a girl to go on a date and then she wouldn’t go on a second date.  If only it was that problem. My problem was getting a girl to say yes to even a first date.  I actually had a girl laugh at me my freshman year of college when I asked her out.  I was thinking ‘I was just asking you to hang out off campus some Friday night.  I didn’t realize it was amateur comedy night at the Apollo.’ That is just one of my stories.  I’ve been shot down by women more than the Luffwaffe got shot down by the Royal Air Force.  I knew my game stunk just from my results.  But I never got told by anyone what I was doing wrong.  Was it some knowledge that I simply wasn’t born with?  Is it my Shrek like physical appearance?  Are people intimidated by physically strong men who are quite intelligent?  I don’t know.  My disappointing failures in the dating game eventually led me to giving up entirely.  The last time I was on even a casual date, a Texan was taking up residence in the White House.  So I’m probably at a severe disadvantage in the dating game anymore I don’t even know where to start. I’m not even sure if I am meant to date, to tell you the truth.

In short, I am living the life of a mentally ill man who’s clueless in the ways of love, socializing, and office politics.  I often feel like I would be better off living as a medieval Catholic monk and I’m not even Catholic.  I already have the vows of poverty, service, and celibacy down pat.  I live those every day.  I don’t think I could do the vow of silence so well.  But I hope you now know a little better why I have problems socializing and dating with neurotypicals.  I hope this explains to you, Mr. and Ms. Normal, why we the mentally ill often seem a bit off socially.  Yours truly, your humble mentally ill correspondent.

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Author: alifeofmentalillness

I write about my experiences with mental illness and life in general. I am also currently under going 'lifestyle changes' (I hate the term 'dieting' as it's sounds so temporary) and have lost 70 pounds since spring 2014. I've put my poetry and novel writing on lower priority since I started losing weight and blogging more seriously.

3 thoughts on “Trying to Understand ‘Normal’ With Mental Illness”

  1. Very good post. I’m relatively NT. I have an autistic brother, who is low functioning and nonverbal, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to communicate (we’re older now and are not on the same coast – in the US – so it’s not an issue now). I’ve had some of the same issues as you, however: not understanding dating when young, or office politics, when older). However, I have never had to arbitrate among different voices in my head. I believe that for NTs, the other voices are mercifully subconscious.
    My theory about office politics is that people in the office each have an their own goals, perhaps derived from a summation of their inner, subconscious, chorus of voices and proceed to maximize the success of achieving them. The tricky part for me was not knowing what their goals were or their strategies for going about accomplishing them. I always assumed that the goals were the same as the corporate goals (i.e., what was in the Mission, Vision and Values statements). I’ve concluded that this is not the case for the majority of cases.
    Good luck in your quest for understanding. Although I am indecisive at times, I can’t imagine having to deal with conscious differences of opinions within my own head all the time.
    best regards,
    Jack

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