The Burden of Normal

[This is not advice and I am not a mental health professional. This was more like a morning journal entry that became a blog post. Merely an amusing musing.]

It amazes me how many things I do for the sake of not feeling bad. I just woke up a few minutes ago and my usual list of thoughts and mental processes began to run automatically, and I noticed that the majority of them share the objective of making me feel as good as possible in the face of desperate sadness. In the first few moments of being awake, my mind scans its entire consciousness for anything that might be hoped for: people I may hope to love or gain the love of, work I may hope to accomplish, identities I may hope to embody, and other generalities. Quickly those thoughts become abstract and overwhelming, and I turn to immediate material comforts such as my coffee, stretching in a certain way to make me feel as alive as possible, where I will sit and drink my coffee and whether it will be too cold, whether I should wear a sweatshirt. Of course, these are all perfectly normal thoughts and concerns for someone to have floating in the river of their consciousness, but what strikes me is that the desperation with which I am thinking about them these days makes the metaphor more like a handful of monstrously large water molecules rolling down a groove in the dirt that should be a river. I am finding I emphasize and fixate on these efforts of comfort and consolation so much that I begin to feel like there is a little demanding celebrity inside me that requires constant attention and care, issuing precise instructions about its desires. I am less a free agent and more like the beleaguered personal assistant to the primadonna inside me.

I suppose even this is another kind of normal. It’s been striking me how difficult it becomes to discuss mental health because of the word normal. Any symptom you might list to an armchair mental health professional can be categorized as normal by some stretch of their conception of the word. “I don’t think I’m doing too well. I find I’m eating two whole sticks of butter every morning without even knowing I’m doing it.” “Oh well that’s somewhat normal. I’ve heard of people eating three or four sticks and not even remembering. The fact that you remember doing it is a sign of good mental health!” When it comes to mental health, people seem to think they are doing you a service by telling you your concern for yourself is unfounded. I’ve learned not to blame them. I think it’s probably a reflex founded on the way we approach other kinds of sickness. If a symptom can be found in the scope of good health, we feel like we are giving the person who is alarmed by the symptom a dose of good news to inform them of it. If someone had never had a flu before and thought they were dying, we would be doing them a favor by informing them that it’s simply something that everyone goes through at some point, and they’ll be back on their feet in no time.

The problem with applying this approach to mental health is that the sufferer’s ability to know and control their own mind is exactly what is in question, so to tell them that they’ve misdiagnosed their own condition by assuring them that what they are concerned about is no concern at all is to confirm and agitate their underlying concern about their own mind, and simultaneously state your unwillingness to treat it as a serious concern. The concept of normal places a burden on sufferers to convince both themselves and any allies they might confide in that a given symptom is not normal and therefore worthy of concern. This creates a dynamic where the sufferer feels desperately ignored in general, and they begin to assign value only to the mental states that lead to their receiving any real attention or concern at all. All of their healthy mental activity can seem valueless in its potential to bring them love. Meanwhile, this demand that the concept of normal has placed upon them to emphasize—and maybe even exaggerate—their unhealthy symptoms makes them unpleasant and uncomfortable to be around, which puts a burden upon all their relationships. Gradually they lose acquaintances and casual friends, and even their closer and intimate friendships become strained.

Certainly, the process is not always such a clear-cut fast track to being alone and friendless, but I think we should be aware that the process as described is the eventual result of ignoring people’s claims to be unwell. Even if you begin to feel like you are merely humoring someone who wants an undue amount of attention, and is merely fabricating these symptoms for the sake of this attention, I think it is worthwhile to give them all you can. I suppose there is no such thing as any universal blanket advice for dealing with this beyond reminding you that what people want from any relationship is love, respect, attention, and a sense that you value them, and this is not particular to people with mental health problems.


I’ve been thinking. For me, one of the most difficult things to do is to act without the fear of being misunderstood; and so I rarely act. Relative to the amount and variety of things I could do and accomplish, I perform them very infrequently; and often the reason is an inescapable awareness of how something I do or say will be received by people around me—particularly on the internet. I feel like I need to make a distinction that I don’t mean that I’m afraid people won’t like what I have to say. In the realm of anything artistic, total disapproval can be just as energizing as being celebrated as a genius. The devastating type of reaction I’m talking about is actually, on the surface, a positive one; but one which totally trivializes the effort. It’s the sort of mild congratulations that I’ve been guilty of myself when someone composes their masterpiece, the sum of their life’s work and uploads it to SoundCloud, and my comment is “very cool bro”.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m suggesting here, but it’s probably along the lines of the old conversation of the Internet removing an element of humanity from the human experience. But I think, more importantly, it also has a lot to do with risk. My “fear of being misunderstood” is a phrase I chose since it’s easy to relate to, but I think I’m suggesting that it’s not really a fear at all. It’s an unwillingness to raise my sails out of a certainty that someone will inadvertently let the wind out of them. I could describe at obnoxious length my storied past of people doing this to me with the best of intentions; but I think the lesson for today is the following, and it’s important for all of us to remember: Even if I was able to convince you that I was legitimately exhausted from trying to create art by years of intentional and malicious discouragement (which, honestly, is rare), a fact of the Universe is that no amount of good will, pity, or empathy from others can take away the necessity of that risk in creating art. No one at any time or any level of fame and success has been or will be excused from the risk involved in putting some of yourself into your work, and putting it out into the world.

Maybe the unfortunate part about that statement is that it’s not good news for me and others who feel this exhaustion from throwing our masterpieces at the massive monolith of the world and watching them bounce off and crumble. But at least, I hope it’s a reminder that it’s not going to happen any other way. We can keep improving the quality of our work; we can change where and how we present it, and keep getting smarter about all these things; but we can’t forget that one certain way to fail is to begin thinking we should be exempted from the risk of failure. To become unwilling to take risks is the same as quitting.


I actually played guitar today which is the first non-performance playing session in quite a long time.  On top of that, I actually plugged the electric guitar into the amp and played.  I sincerely can’t remember the last time I did that, but you know that feeling when you start to take a nap and you start to re-enter the dream you left when you woke up that morning as though time hasn’t stopped in that dream world?  Well that sort of effect happened, and the trace feelings took me back to a decade ago.  This tells me—among other things—that I need to make an effort to do this more often.

These days are sort of like self-rebuilding.  It’s part of a larger process that I have in mind of which school is another significant part.  I’m trying to re-establish a new identity between each school semester after being completely broken down by the school schedule.  At a certain point I began to find that I need more things in my life to break me down.  We all seek comfort, but comfort tends to make us stagnant.  Well it does for me anyway.


Well, school is over (for now) and I’m entering the conflicted stage of pre-Summer where I decide whether I’ll do everything that I wanted to do during the frantic *** of the Spring semester or if I’ll just sit and stare at a blank wall, breathing deeply until the Fall semester.  It’s very tempting to do nothing, but truly I don’t think I could if I tried.  I can’t do everything of course.  If I had my way, I’d write an entire album and a novel by the end of Summer, ride my bike and practice guitar every day, and find a cure for some exotic disease while I was at it.  It’s going to take some judicious time management to get as much done as possible.  Meanwhile, my new state of existence is pictured below:


English is a Major (pain)

I’ve been wondering what my problem is with just telling people that I’m going for an English major. I always just say that I’m “doing English for now,” or that “well I put English down on the form”. Sure, part of it is that I’m leaving it open for myself to have an unexpected change of heart and to suddenly decide at some point to major in Seinfeld Studies or something.  But mainly it’s sort of a self-hating aversion to the idea of being an English Major.

I could never stand the type of writing which is by and for English majors.  Or maybe I’ll go further and say that I could never stand the type of personality that desperately needs approval and acceptance by some faceless mass of “Educated people”.  When I’m reading an article and see words like “despondent” when “sad” was more appropriate, or the writer uses a phrase like “my quotidian newspaper”, I want to projectile vomit the words right off the page.  Whether they’re trying to impress themselves, or some English professor they had, or possibly Dickens’ ghost, I really don’t care and wish some writers would take their insecurities and inferiority complexes and stick them in a diary where they belong.

Anyway enough of my diatribe of vitriol right guys?  My point is just that this is the kind of friends I imagine myself having when I think of advancing too much further in the world of an English major; and I grow cautious.  Sometimes it makes me want to plunge into the heart of this world, and maybe spread the gospel of “Communication over Language”; but other times I just want to major in design and be friends with awesome, mellow, confident folks who just want to draw and play with Photoshop all day.  Which is more honest?  I put it to you.

New Theme

So I went with a new theme on the blog.  I had the other one for probably almost two years!  It was definitely time.  Hey, have you guys ever noticed that Apple saves money by using an upside-down “W” for the “M” button?  I mean it’s not a normal “M”; the legs are splayed out a bit so you can see that it’s clearly an upside-down “W”.  Just one of the many aspects of Apple culture that I’ll just have to get used to.  So far I’m loving it.  I’m still getting used to using “command” instead of “control” for cut, copy, save commands; and “command” and arrow keys for “home” and “end”, but soon that’ll be over.  Anyway, lots to get used to, but I’ll have a lot of fun doing it.

Honesty Continued

All that being said, I think it’s pretty clear that the only thing I lack is energy.  If I had energy to finish things, the issue of whether they’d bring me any sort of satisfaction should have no effect on whether I begin them.

So who knows why I lack energy.  It’s probably psychological; with me, it seems most things are.  What does that mean?  I suppose it means that I’m aware that I have no real obstacles to contend with.  In a purely physical sense, I have everything I need to begin any number of careers, but nothing appeals to me anymore.  And so I sit at the top of a towering mountain of opportunity saying “I don’t feel like it.”  And the frightening part is: I sincerely don’t.  Anyway, that’s what I mean by psychological.  I know better than anyone that all of my actions (as well as my decisions to not act) are self-destructively  benign.  But fighting against myself in this can be illustrated thus: It’s easier to convince a stubborn man to follow you than it is to drag a corpse behind you.

And for all you fans of platitudinous metaphors, I’m aware that the solution is to leave the “corpse” behind and strengthen whatever part of me remains to struggle with said corpse.  But seriously that answer is no help.

Anyway, there’s a kind of pathetic vulnerability that can be construed from this kind of conversation.  I’m not looking for any advice or anything.  Just mulling things over so I have an excuse to play on my new MacBook.