The Seductive Illusion of Normal

Ninety-eight percent of the time I’m good with being autistic. I was going to say “fine with being autistic” or “okay with being autistic” but I don’t want to use tepid adjectives. I really truly feel good about myself most of the time.

Then there’s the other two percent. The hard, ugly, maybe I shouldn’t be saying this but I’m wishing for normal two percent.

When I was four or five years old, I wished I was a boy. Boys got to roughhouse and play cool sports and go shirtless in the summer.

I tried the shirtless thing. It landed me in trouble, though as far as I could tell I looked no different from the shirtless boys in the neighborhood. Later, I hung around the pick-up games and sometimes the older kids let me play. I learned to throw a tight spiral and catch a long pass no matter how bad it made my ice-cold hands sting afterward. Eventually, I learned to fight.

The desire to be a boy faded.

In third grade, I wished my curly hair was straight like Marsha Brady’s. All of the cool older girls-and by older I was thinking fifth graders–had straight hair. Somehow, it seemed like straight hair would magically make me popular.

A couple of years later “Farrah Fawcett hair” was all the rage, and if I spent enough time with my mother’s blow dryer and roller brush, I could feather my hair perfectly. It didn’t make me popular but it cured me of the illusion that better hair was the key to eternal happiness.

I’ve wished for other things over the years. To be taller: more clothing choices. To be more coordinated: I didn’t make the cut for high school sports. To be more feminine: I’m not sure why, exactly.


As I’ve gotten older, the wishes have become more amorphous.

Now I find myself trying to sort out where this wishing to be normal falls. Is it like wishing for Marsha Brady hair–that one elusive change that will make me magically popular? Or is it like wishing to be a boy so I can play shirtless in the summer?

Surprisingly, I think it’s more of the latter–more of a practical wish. You see, when I most find myself wishing to be normal is when I see the people around me struggling with the–well, for lack of a better term, let’s call it the side effects of my autism.

I don’t live in a vacuum. I say and do stuff. People around me are affected by it. Even though they know I struggle with certain things–they know this logically. That doesn’t prevent them from being affected by my words or actions or lack of words or actions.

This is when the wish to be normal sneaks up and grabs me.

I’m using normal and not neurotypical here for a reason. Normal is an illusion and I know it’s the illusion that I’m wishing for at these times. I’m not wishing for a different neurology so much as a fantasy version of life.

It’s easy to be seduced by the idea that being normal would solve everything, that it would make the lives of the people around me easier. But, of course it wouldn’t. We’d have some other problems instead, because life is like that.

And still it’s there, born out of frustration and insecurity, of a sense of never quite being good enough or right enough or just plain enough.

Maybe it’s a self-esteem issue. Mine has never been especially good. I seesaw between overconfidence and underconfidence, with no idea where the sweet spot in-between lies. Does anyone truly know this? I’m not sure.

I’m not sure it even matters. This will all pass. It always does.

At some point, I see the illusion for what it is, and the desire fades.

It always has.


This post is also available in Portuguese

47 thoughts on “The Seductive Illusion of Normal”

  1. So true. Especially the waffling between confidence and under-confidence. This has sabotaged my professional life in more ways than I can count. I’m learning to recognize it and “shut out” the “fear voice” inside of me … But it’s taken a long time!

    1. It’s so hard to find the right confidence level. I tend to get overconfident and make a huge mistake then suffer the consequences in underconfidence for weeks. I’m hoping that being more conscious of this will help me learn to shut it out too.

  2. I totally feel the desire to be ‘normal.’ But that’s definitely a myth, even though I often look around at others and think, ‘oh their life must be pretty easy. They’re not depressed or manic and therefore their lives are better than mine.’ Especially those people who seem to be perpetually happy. Sometimes it’s hard to suppress the jealously and remember that everyone is dealing with their own problems.

  3. My wish to be “normal” includes a lot of internal flogging and gaslighting, and resulted in some very negative results in my life. I know its wrong to feel that way, and its not necessarily even my wish, as much as its the wish of others. Its like getting on a train, and sitting in your assigned seat, which you don’t quite fit in and becomes uncomfortable. When your stop comes, it is always one stop short of utopia, and you leave feeling great envy for those who remain. However this train is cursed, its always one stop short of utopia. I wote about this recently myself

    1. Thanks for the link – I added your blog to my reader. The illusion of normal can be dangerous–especially if other people are pushing it on you. I think I grew up with a very well-defined idea of normal and only realized recently that it doesn’t exist.

  4. I have spent all my life trying and failing to fit into “normal” in so many ways. I have hated myself with a vengeance for not ever getting it right. The more normal I tried to be, the more anxious and odd I would behave. “Just be normal” my brain would scream at my anxious, twitching, stimming body and then plummet me into a common cycle of depression when I couldnt. Now that I know I am an aspie, the last few months have allowed me to revel in the joys of not being normal. I had to go to hospital event that would normally have me in such a state that i would risk being sectioned under the mental health act before i got near my actual consultation. “I have a a aspergers..the people…” I stammered and twitched to the receptionist, only to be ushered with no fuss to a side room to wait in semi-darkness and near silence for my appointment. Oh the joy of being able to tell them that I am not normal πŸ™‚ I guess there will be times i yearn for it but for now its a case of give me break world, i have aspergers lol

    1. First off, I hope you’re okay re: your hospital visit. It’s great that you were able to just say up front that you have Asperger’s and have the staff recognize your needs accordingly. I haven’t yet had a regular doctor’s appointment since my diagnosis, but I’m hoping that disclosing my AS will smooth things a bit in that area. I always end up making doctors cross, it seems.

      Also, hurray for reveling in the joys of being not normal! πŸ™‚

      1. I don’t revel in the joys of not being normal, rather the opposite. Of course, the fact that every individual has their own version of normal, Autistic or otherwise, is neither here nor there. Simples!

  5. Okay, so upon finishing this post I was compelled to get up and go over to one of the bookshelves to get Jimmy Buffett’s ‘A Pirate Looks at 50’ and then, with the book in hand a long pause ensued when I realized I am a pirate soon looking at 50… okay, refocusing now. The quote is on the bottom of page 11, no page 13, I love this quote, I think we all need to memorize this quote because we all have this need from time to time. Okay, ready for the quote? Here it is, it’s deep, it’s profound, it’s Jimmy Buffett after all…

    “… remember, when reality looks too ugly, just fantasize. It can’t hurt.”


  6. I’ve spent all of my life trying to be “normal” – not that I have any real definition of the word. I still struggle with it now.

    1. It’s such an ambiguous concept, isn’t it? And yet it seems like we’re sure we’ll “know it when we see it” or something. I have no idea. It’s kind of a relief to see so many people saying they experience the same feelings. It feels like a dirty little secret in a way.

  7. Normal is an awful concept isn’t it?
    I rejected normal… the normal kids didn’t want me anyway.. now when I feel like I wish things were different I tend to wish for simple rather than normal.

  8. Has anyone here watched Edward Scissorhands? To me, the movie represents someone who got plopped into a “normal” world, but later, realizes that he’s more comfortable in the place he originally lived in. I’ve felt similarly. I used to dream of being “normal,” which for me was “extroverted.” It would certainly solve a lot of my problems socially! But after I’ve managed to get to know people I consider “normal,” I’ll realize how rich and interesting their lives are besides being socially adept…and ultimately, how comfortable I am with being weird.

    1. That’s an awesome movie. I think I associate normal with extroverted too. That’s interesting – hadn’t thought about it that way. The funny thing is, more than once I’ve gotten to know people who seemed extroverted and socially adept and it turned out that I didn’t like them very much beyond that veneer. Wow, thanks for the thought provoking comment!

  9. I never want to be normal, until I have to interact with people and then I really, really want to be normal!
    Inside myself I am very happy and secure with myself, but as soon as I have to talk to people or figure out how to behave around them I become a problem and I really hate having Asperger’s then. I wasn’t so bad before my diagnosis because I wasn’t as self-concious then as I am now. Now, because I know I am NOT ‘normal’ I try even harder not to be too strange. Now I am always checking how I am behaving or how much I am understanding what is going on with the people around me. Does anyone else feel this way?

    1. Oh, I absolutely agree with you. So many of these comments are identical to my own experiences. I used to love movies from the 1940s – everybody seemed to know who they were and their place in the world, whereas I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. It really is just an illusion – this “normal” we seek – and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes of people’s lives that is rarely viewed by those of us on the “outside” looking in. I think the problem is that everyone in our society buys into this idea of “normal, even though there’s no such thing, and those of us who know we’ll never fit into that mold no matter how hard we try become hyper-aware of how different we are. Then we beat ourselves up for being different.

        1. R.I.P, Lauren Bacall (+ August 12, 2014). Recommended viewing for relating to Cynthia’s reply: ‘To have and have not’ (1944), ‘The big sleep’ (1946), or ‘Key Largo’ (1948). All of these together with Humphrey Bogart ! Wow !

            1. Wow ! New layout launch, apparently sometime in the last hour !
              (y) Like it a lot
              Hopefuly the implementattion did not take too much time away from fishing, gardening, or triathlon-training? This one of your plans for August impresses / intimidates me most in my armchair πŸ˜€ stupid joke, I’m just back in from gardening

              1. Glad you like it! It’s an off the shelf template for wordpress so it didn’t take me very long to tweak into something I like. I seem to have scads of free time this month anyhow. πŸ™‚

    2. Oh, I get this! I never long to be normal when I’m alone either.

      The urge to self-censor and be socially on guard can be such a strong one, especially if you feel like the people around you are being judgey or not very accepting. Gah.

  10. I struggle with this because when people find out I have it, they say, “But you act so normal” as opposed to the autistic people that we typically think of. Yes, I look normal, we’re masters of blending in, which I think sometimes is our greatest downfall. When the camouflage doesn’t quite match, we’re exposed for what we really are. I usually love who I am, but some days I watch people at school hanging out together, and all I can think is, we’ve been in the same classes for four years and talked often, so why do I never get invited or included? What is so different about me that they can spot or feel?

    1. People who say stuff like that need a serious dose of awareness and maybe a good throat punching. πŸ™‚

      Being excluded from a group that you feel like you should be a part of is so hard. I don’t think this ever stops happening–I’ve experienced it as an adult too, IRL and online. I’ll think I’m part of something and then I find that other people just seem so much more connected and naturally included. Does it have to do with making effort or some sort of subtle signaling or maybe most people know how to insert themselves into a group naturally? It’s mystifying.

      1. I’m not entirely convinced that ‘normal’ people feel normal–or that anyone does. I recently self-diagnosed and while it has explained a lot, I was very glad to see that I was not ‘normal’ but it has made my social ‘position’ [ahem] starker.

        A few years ago I got Grave’s Disease–now resolved (as I was determined to be in the 15% who get over it and never get it again) but it was pretty hideous. I read in Louise Hay’s Metaphysical Causes of Physical Ailments [sic] that an overactive thyroid was the result of ‘rage at being excluded’. Oh shit yeah. And while I wish sometimes my phone rang more or maybe ever and that somebody invited me to the party I got to hear about, really I don’t enjoy such situations anyway unless I can just play music, stay reasonably sober, leave early and not have to talk to people I have absolutely nothing to say to. My point is I think everybody feels a bit like aspie’s do about their ‘social security’ but aspie’s just feel it more deeply and analyse it and it seems inevitable that we take it personally when we are excluded. It is kind of personal despite what people say. That said, a ‘friend’ who I foolishly told about my mild aspergers, saw it as an excuse to stick the boot in and say that ‘people’ find me unnerving.”You mean” I said, “like they’re scared of me?” “wtf?”

        People are very, very, wary of those who they suspect may unexpectedly blurt out a truth about them they would rather not face themselves and certainly don’t want anybody else to see. But hey it’s loads of fun if you can do this with a large dash of humour! hehehe. But hey, I’m glad not to be normal and I’m really glad that however painful it might be I can see the truth of a situation and that means a great deal more to be than blundering around unconsciously in a state of delusion which I think most ‘normal’ people are doing. I would hate to be ‘normal’ and while I’ve spent the last 49 years knowing that I wasn’t normal, but wondering what was wrong with me, I would rather be me than anyone else, even if sometimes it really, really sucks.

        I was really lucky to have a true teacher and when I asked him how I could increase my self-esteem without simply puffing up my ego he wrote two words on the white board — con fides ‘with faith’. Faith is the source of my confidence and my confidence is BIG except when I’d rather be dead . . . or a rock, or a hatstand, or something insensate and inanimate.

        1. I think you’re right about few people feeling normal, but we aspies taking it more personally and experiencing it more deeply when we’re excluded or marginalized. I’ve been told that I unnerve people to, also that they think I’m cold or unfeeling, self-centered or just downright intimidating. The alternative is to pretend to be something I’m not, which is exhausting and usually only halfway successful anyhow.

          I like your teacher’s answer – faith and belief can carry some of that burden for us.

  11. I cycle too, overconfident when I nail a social situation that I see as tough, under confident when I screw something up. Then it takes awhile for me to feel comfortable fully interacting with people after I can tell I’ve annoyed them :/

  12. Ah! Reading this just gave me an idea, this might be a bit long so, sorry. I’ve struggled with my self esteem for years as well, and go through similar swings between under-confidence and over-confidence. Maybe though, going through those swings means you’re relatively healthy. A person that is able to be humbled from experience and able to gain confidence from experience is healthy. A person that is stuck in cynicism/depression/etc or arrogance isn’t.

    1. That’s a good way of looking at it. I think I do learn from my mistakes, generally, though I’m also often quite cynical and sometimes arrogant on top of that. But that’s mellowing with age, it seems. πŸ™‚

  13. I had to give up normal when I realized I wasn’t born to be anything like that. But then I realized that how I was born was ‘normal’ for me. Still, I too sometimes long to be normal like others. It’s always a struggle. But I am happy to be me.

  14. I’ve been lurking around your blog for several months now and usually I’m content to read and learn and keep quiet, but I felt compelled to comment this time, because I feel sad inside when I think that one of the most wonderful minds (whose life lessons, reflections, and personal writing have immensely helped me in cultivating a greater understanding and love for someone very close to me) feel they are anything less than fascinating and just as they should be (even 2% of the time).

    I think the quest for attaining the title of normal is a fallacy that we all sort of buy into if we’re even a tiny bit introspective, because we’re constantly analyzing ourselves and typically in a very critically negative manner. We seek out flaws in ourselves not perfections. I’m NT (as far as I know…I’m in the air on this one quite a bit lately) and of what I remember of my very young childhood I don’t recall ever feeling quite normal or like I belonged either, and this certainly hasn’t changed as a 29 year old woman. I smiled at your reference to wanting to be a boy and running around shirtless in the Summer. I don’t think I ever wanted to be a boy so much as I just didn’t feel at home with girls. I’ve never ever felt feminine enough and it’s something my mother and I share in common. It’s less about my appearance and much more about the way I respond to feelings, social interactions, or the way I perceive my role in society as a whole or within my personal relationships. I always sort of feel like I’m standing around the outside edges of group interactions with other women and observing while fading into the backdrop, trying not to check the clock repeatedly or run for the nearest exit. I tend to blunder terribly and make all the wrong choices that never bother the men in my life, but always have women gossiping about how rude and inconsiderate I am…I’m not malicious; it just genuinely didn’t occur to me to approach the situation the way they would have preferred…thus leaving me devastated that I hurt them, made a mistake, and appeared terribly flawed and unworthy.

    With men I’ve never felt this way. I have a loud, sometimes vulgar sense of humor, I’m very blunt (or frank as the aspie object of my affection has called me and told me is one of the things he likes best about me) and this tends to put other women off. I feel like I missed out on the day where the ‘how to interact in polite, feminine society’ manual was passed out. I didn’t get a copy and never got a memo, and ever since I’ve been avoiding that aspect of life like the plague. I have one close female friend and she’s like me, but puts on a better face that she crafted out of having 3 sons and needing to interact with other mothers (her middle son is on the spectrum so perhaps she is a bit too). The funny thing is…through reading your blog as well as a few others I’ve found I feel comfortable and identify better with the way AS women think and feel versus NT women. Reading blogs written by women on the spectrum feels like I’m home and I can kick off my shoes. It’s wonderful really.

    So if I am in fact NT and your perceptions of the world are entirely normal to me, then what is the concept of normal? It seems far too subjective an idea to let it get the best of us. We are what we are and that (flaws and all) is rather magnificent. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I’m so glad you delurked. It’s always good to hear from someone who is enjoying the blog. πŸ™‚

      I’m increasingly feeling like gender is a fluid concept and letting go of the vague ideas I have of what a woman should be. I’m very blunt as well and often say things that people find shocking or insensitive. This is definitely more problematic around women than men, generally. I’ve always been drawn to male-dominated activities–martial arts, target shooting, economics major in college–and I’m more comfortable interacting with men in general. Women, especially in groups, intimidate me. What you say about not getting the “how to interact in polite, feminine society” manual is a perfect description of how I feel.

      You sound like a great match with your aspie guy. πŸ™‚

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