Even before I became mentally ill, I had problems with fitting in with others and making friends. It has caused me so many problems with others over the years. When I was a child in grade school, I got in so much trouble with teachers, classmates, and family alike whenever I said anything sounding like it had no earthly reason to come from the mouth of a child. For example, as a seven year old if I joked about how slow someone was speaking, I would try to make a joke because I saw that children and adults enjoyed humor, and say something like “Speak any slower and we could time you with a sun dial,” I would find myself in major trouble. I was told I had “attitude problems” among other things. Yet I would see adults joke with each other with similar humor, and worse. I couldn’t figure it out. I was often told by adults to “grow up” and yet when I tried to act, joke, and talk like the adults I saw I got in trouble.
Even as I child I valued my freedom and privacy. I would often go into the large backyard of my home and pace and think for hours on end. I often did this to dream up stories, dream up new twists on old games, make up new slants on old children’s stories, and think of ways to do things better. My classmates would ridicule me for wanting to be alone all the time and I probably concerned my parents for not wanting to socialize more with family and classmates. I didn’t do it to be anti-social or draw attention. I just got a lot more mileage out of socializing for short times than most people. I didn’t do it for attention because I really didn’t want attention once I became old enough to figure out I was a running joke because I was smart and actually enjoying learning how to do new things. I might not have spent so much time outside if I had a chemistry set. I’d probably accidentally burned down the house instead.
My real saving grace as a kid was having two friends just as smart and eccentric as I. My first true friend, a kid named Ben who moved to my town when we were 11, was as interested in music, dry humor, and history as I was in science. We would often do inexpensive science experiments in the storage room of his parents’ grocery store. One time we took some old Micro Machine cars, taped magnets to the bottom of the cars, weighted the top of the cars with pennies and dimes, and got them to run along a track of magnets at least three feet long. We didn’t realize that we made a very crude version of Mag Lev transportation. Ben and I also joked that we would eat nothing but meat, cheese, and milk for a month to “protest the wholesale slaughter of defenseless plants.” Yeah, the Atkins Diet as designed by 12 year olds. Needless to say our sixth grade classmates didn’t get the humor.
I never did enjoy the toilet and locker room style of humor that my classmates did. Even in high school, I really liked the comedy of people ranging from George Carlin to Jeff Foxworthy to Bill Hicks. While most of my classmates were listening to Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, and George Strait, my two core friends and I were listening to groups like Metallica, AC/DC, and the Seattle grunge groups that were around in the 90s (much to the chagrin of my parents).
We didn’t win many style points with our classmates because we were contrarian thinkers, often asked questions in class, didn’t just ‘go along to get along’, openly questioned policies and practices of adults that were counter productive and senseless, and we didn’t particularly like sports.
I was often chided for preferring to spend my weekends and summer days reading books, namely non fiction. To me, the things that occurred naturally in the world and universe was far more interesting than fairy tales and fantasy books. To this day I have never read anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and J.K Rowling. Reading books about science, biology, astronomy, chemistry, military history, etc. were interesting enough without the magical Disney nonsense.
I also didn’t do well dating as a kid. My other quirky best friend, a girl named Shaunna, and I would often hang out on weekends watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on SyFy channel if there weren’t any high school dances nearby. It wasn’t until the last five years did it dawn on me that the reason I did so poor in the numbers of girls I dated was precisely because of my best friend that was a girl. I was probably shot down by most other girls because they thought I was a player or swinger. But as a clueless seventeen year old that thought never once entered my mind. If only I knew then even half of what I know now.
One thing I do know now is that normal is boring. Normal is mundane. Normal does not change the world or even a neighborhood for the better. Far too many people over the centuries have died fulfilling only a fraction of their potential because they feared being abnormal. I never had, I still don’t, have a fear of standing out and going against the tide of acceptable public opinion. As far as I can tell, my old friends Ben and Shaunna are still the same way. Sure it is frustrating to prove a point and still not sway normal people. But I don’t want to lose the intelligence, empathy, and creativity that were the tools God gave me to try to make my small mark in my corner of existence. It causes me frustration but it doesn’t cause me fear. I got over that a very long time ago. My older brother, being the typical tormenting brother who’d try to whip his younger sibling back into line, would often ask me things like ‘Why can’t you be normal?’ My answer, years later, is something like ‘I tried being normal once but didn’t like it.’ 😀