Hold On To The Light: What Is Normal?

normalI was first diagnosed in 3rd grade at the world-renowned Meninger’s Clinic in Topeka, Kansas: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For my physician and nurse parents, this was a huge relief. Finally an answer to their son’s odd and frustrating behavior. For me, it was the day I found out I would never be normal.

There’s nothing like slapping a label “disorder” on someone to make them feel like a freak. And for years it was “did you take your meds?” or “go chill out, you’re hyper” and other dismissive remarks whenever they found me annoying, odd, or difficult. It was never about celebrating and appreciating how these things made me unique–how the intense focus and energy bursts could result in huge bouts of productive creativity. How the racing mind could sort through so many more scenarios and options at a faster rate than anyone around me and keep juggling them all there even while discussing or writing–giving me a lot of info to utilize. It wasn’t about how I could get more done in a focused bout of 45 minutes than most people could do in 2 hours. It was always about the “disability.” No discussion of benefits. (My parents are not altogether bad or unsupportive people, by the way, I am talking about one particular circumstance only).

crazy-person-3As a result, it took me a while to identify these traits as having positive benefits. And to adjust my life to live in ways that utilized them and made the most of them, rather than just trying to medicate them away and hide my abnormality. That’s a terrible burden to live with, by the way. A terrible burden to put on a child.

Now don’t get me wrong. ADHD is a real thing and I always cringe at parents who both over diagnose with it or ignore it because they think it’s overdiagnosed. Let the experts really tell you. Get a second or third opinion if you must. For your child, knowing and helping them learn to cope is really important. I just wish my parents had handled that differently. It wasn’t until I got to be an adult that I discovered adjusting my working habits and lifestyle, diet, etc. would all be things I could use to make the most of my “unique gifts” and live more productively and get along better with others. Before that, I had “disorder” on the brain. It was a curse, some horrible burden God put on me for some unknown reason–why did he hate me?–not something I could overcome and use.

crazy-person-2It wasn’t until my early thirties that I really grasped the concept that no one is normal. Everyone has quirks and issues. The so-called “normal” people love to talk about and bandy about like a standard is really a matter of point of view, perspective. There is no catch-all, set absolutely, scientifically determined state that constitutes “normal.”

What really brought it home to me was events that started in 2009, when my beloved wife, a Brazilian (who doesn’t like me to use her name about this so I am not) began acting very strangely in ways that were dangerous. When her flight to St. Louis got layed over in Chicago for a long delay, she called me in the middle of the night from downtown Chicago where she was wandering around pulling her suitcase just to “sightsee” alone. Yep. We knew no one in Chicago. She’d never been before. And she just went downtown to see the city alone, at night. With a suitcase. To say I was panicked is an understatement. I woke up a lot of people that night seeking help. And I didn’t hear from her again for several hours, making it worse.

crazy-person-1A few months later, she started being up at odd hours, running around hectically, cleaning obsessively, etc. all night. And then one day, while I went to Mexico to teach free music classes, I sent her off to the bus to attend a seminar for her new hospitality job at a hotel. Once I crossed the border, the phone went off so I could avoid the expensive “international roaming” cellular phones on the U.S.-Mexico Border struggle with at great expense for their owners. That night, I arrived home to multiple messages on both my voicemail and answering machine of an increasingly aggitated, worried, and then angry wife berating me for not calling her back and coming to get her.

Despite searching, calling her cell and friends, etc., I did not see her again for over 6 hours, until the El Paso PD brought her to my door at 5 a.m. It turns out she’d never made it to the bus and had wandered the city on foot, eventually discarding her shoes–which fell apart–her jewelry, ID (including key immigration documents like green card), and more and was found wandering on Interstate 10, dodging semis (she was actually struck on the shoulder by a semi’s mirror and stayed standing with only a scratch), babbling about trying to get home. The Police thought she was suicidal. The gibberish she was speaking scared the hell out of me.

crazy-jack-nicholson-shiningBy 2011, we were divorced and she had gone back to Brazil, but this was after 5 forced hospitalizations, dozens more incidents, my losing my day job and so much more that really made our life chaotic and turned it upside down. I lost the love of my life. I lost my partner, lover, and best friend. I lost a really well-paying job I enjoyed, a house we wanted to buy, and many friends who were alienated along the way not understanding the drama or the situation. I wound up on dozens of meds for heart rate, blood pressure, depression, and so much more. The doctors thought I’d have a heart attack at 45. For two years, the meds seemed to be doing nothing to help. A month after we divorced and my ex went home to Brazil with family, my levels went back to normal and the meds were no longer needed.

THAT, my friends, is stress.

Why do I tell you this? I tell you this because my ex’s biggest struggle with her illness was her frustration, fear, and pain of being told she was not “normal” anymore. That really destroyed her self-esteem. She didn’t want meds, she wanted a miracle. She wanted to be the normal person she’d been before, not some mentally ill person. What I had realized with my Ritalin was that sometimes the medicine IS the miracle, but that was a concept she was not ready to accept. Her self-identity was too threatened, her sense of esteem too violated. So she didn’t medicate consistently, she blamed and lashed out at those around her, and various side effects occurred that made things worse, not better.

Now as I watch another family member going through that 6 years later, my heart breaks for them daily. I want to reach out, hug them, impart all this wisdom, and tell them: “It is okay to be you. Normal is relative. You are awesome as you are.” To take away the fear, pain, paranoia, and more so they can just face up to their new reality, take the meds, and live a relatively similar life to what they did before. But they are not ready yet, just as my ex was. Then, as I said, it took me years to accept that I had my own “normal,” and I was fortunately diagnosed as a kid. These two people (my ex and relative) are adults. How much harder must it be for them to adjust to that idea?

happy-person-1So here’s the thing. No one is mainstream. No one is straight normal. No one. We are all unique. If you believe in God, He made us that way. Or perhaps you’d prefer to think of the amazing science of genetics and DNA. Either way, there is a reason DNA can identify people. We are all unique. And for the love of God, there is nothing wrong with being unique. There is nothing wrong with not being “normal.” Be yourself. THAT was the lesson I needed to learn, and the lesson all “mentally ill,” “disabled,” and family members of those afflicted must learn to accept. “Normal” for you is different than anyone else. And that is okay. It is not a disaster. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is something to figure out and adjust for and live happily and well with. And anyone can do it. You just have to believe, accept, and put in the work.

cropped-for-webI’m not saying I don’t still struggle. I am not saying ADHD does not still affect my life and relationships. It does. I still can’t always read others’ reactions to me well in social situations. My overabundant, hyper energy can still be offputting. It has made it hard to keep steady day jobs. But that is my “normal,” and I have adjusted by becoming freelance, by becoming more blunt and open about who I am in relationships, and by continuing to take whatever meds and dietary things help and adjusting my working style, etc. accordingly.

What is normal? It is that label that is the “disorder” or “disability” if you allow it to be one. But it is one you can overcome if you have the patience and determination to try, to do it. It takes time, yes. It is hard, yes. But it is accomplishable. It is possible. And realizing and accepting your unique you is a better way to live than under a label of “abnormal” or “disorder” will ever be. Trust me. I’ve learned the hard way and it took me almost 37 years. Hopefully, this post might help a few people get there faster and avoid a lot of heartache. That’s what I hope for, at least.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan s Headshots-bryan-0002 websizeBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and Hugo-nominated editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online and include entries in The X-Files, Predator, and Decipher’s WARS, amongst others. As book editor for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s WordFire Press he edited books by such luminaries as Alan Dean Foster, Tracy Hickman, Frank Herbert, Mike Resnick, Jean Rabe and more. He was also the first editor on Andy Weir’s bestseller The Martian. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games and Little Green Men–Attack! (forthcoming) all for Baen, Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, Beyond The Sun and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age. He also coedited forthcoming anthologies with Larry Correia and Jonathan Maberry set in their New York Times Bestselling Monster Hunter International and Joe Ledger universes.

Website/Blog: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net
Twitter: @BryanThomasS
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass?ref=hl
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3874125.Bryan_Thomas_Schmidt

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Write Tip: 7 Things I Learned About Working With Editors From Editing SPACE BATTLES

In Spring 2010, I got the chance to pitch publisher David Rozansky of Flying Pen Press some anthology ideas I’d been developing and wound up hired to edit the next installment in the publisher’s long running Full Throttle Space Tales anthology series, Space Battles, which release last week, April 18. After three years now of significant work editing books, stories and now an anthology with authors, I can tell you I have come to the conclusion every writer ought to get experience being an editor. There’s so much helpful stuff to learn but this was particularly true from editing an anthology. Here’s 7 things I learned:

1 ) Meet Deadlines — As an editor, there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting on writers. If you set a deadline, particularly as I did, many months out for your project, and hardly any stories come in by deadline, you start to worry. I had invited 37 people and needed 17-19 stories, and I had 6 come in by deadline. Unsurprisingly, two of those were by my headliners Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen and Jean Johnson. There’s a reason Mike Resnick gets so many awards and has such a body of work: he’s a pleasure to work with. He’s a professional. He’s reliable. You never appreciate that more than when you’re editing something like this.

2 ) Be Courteous — I invited you to submit to my anthology, in many cases because you’re friends or I like your work. Some of you expressed an interest beforehand and I honored that. Okay, then how come I can name at least 10 “friends” I’ve never heard from since? They didn’t thank me for the original invite. They didn’t respond to the reminders as deadline approach. Not a word after the post-deadline pleas for more stories. I have heard nothing. How do you think that makes me feel about their professionalism and their friendship? How likely do you think I’ll be to invite them to my next project? I leave it to you to figure that out but I’d bet it’s pretty obvious after what I said about Resnick. Resnick’s already invited to my next project.

3 ) Work With Me — Editors edit. It’s what we’re employed to do. My job is to help both your story and the anthology as a whole be the best it can be. I want us all to win. I don’t want to ruin your story, so don’t be difficult. Yeah, I’m not perfect. I don’t know everything. But neither do you. When I ask for changes, I expect you to discuss it yes, but I also expect you to make the changes. If there’s something you feel strongly about, I am fair. We can discuss it. But don’t make me do it for you from stubbornness and don’t nitpick every single minor change. I had some authors who asked to keep a couple things for various reasons and I agreed because they willingly made every other change I asked for. I didn’t ask for a lot. I hate asking people to change their precious words. But sometimes it’s necessary for good reasons. One of my authors wrote enough backstory to fill several novels and his story dragged and suffered for it. He refused to make changes, even after I went through and marked stuff out for him. Most editors would have just rejected it, but I went the extra mile. I wanted to help him make it work. Then this same author kept bragging about how this was “the most brilliant story” I’d gotten of all of them. I passed. And I won’t be inviting him to future projects. I asked for a couple tweaks in Resnick & Torgersen’s story and had it back in less than 24 hours. Who would you rather work with?

4 ) Editors Want Your Story To Be Good — Not only is hard to ask writers to change their precious words, but it’s really hard to reject their stories. It broke my heart. The first story Jean Johnson subbed, I rejected. It didn’t have a core ship on ship battle in space. I did the same with trunk stories from Jay Lake, Kevin J. Anderson and Chuck Gannon. The stories were all brilliant. I’m sure they will find homes. They just didn’t fit the guidelines for this. Yes, I couldn’t believe I was rejecting stories from such talented people. But then I also rejected a couple off sub-par stories as well. And one of them was by a good friend. That was really hard. It hurt me to say it. I didn’t want to be another rejection for any writer. We get enough. I wanted their stories to be good. I wanted them all to be ready and right for the anthology. They weren’t. Thank God I chose not to do an open call. Imagine how many more painful rejections I’d have had to make? As it was, at least I could personalize and praise the good along with saying “no.” And although I know I did the right thing by saying “no,” I still wish I could have said “Yes!”

5 ) Editors Have Deadlines Too — Yeah, I set a deadline for story subs, but you know what, your missing that deadline creates issues with my deadlines for having stories picked and submitting a manuscript to the publisher. I actually had to push it back waiting for stories. How does that make me look professionally? Oh, the publisher was gracious. He understood. But if you continually put me in a spot where I can’t meet deadlines, how likely am I to want to work with you in the future?

6 ) Editors Work Hard — I don’t think you realize how much work it takes to edit until you do it. I’m not talking revision passes on your manuscript. I’m talking editing someone else’s precious work so that it comes out shiny and make everyone get the praise they deserve. It needs to not just fit with the stories around it and flow well, but you need to polish it for typos, get their name right, format it, polish it. It takes a lot of passes reading the stories and it takes a lot of time nitpicking little details. Sadly, I just the other day found a typo in one story near the end of the anthology which I should have caught. I am going to be kicking myself about that forever. I let those writers down. It’s a lot of pressure and work to not just sell the anthology to the publisher, but figure out the best story order, manage the budget wisely, recruit writers, control deadlines, meet deadlines of your own, etc. It takes work to keep fresh eyes rereading the same stories over and over because of all the details. You want to make sure they’re as good as can be and yet you’ve read them so many times it becomes a bit like editing your own work. So writers, don’t think editors have the easy job, because they don’t. And they’re reputations are dependent not just on picking great stories but lots of other factors too.

7) It Feels Just As Good — The sense of pride and accomplishment you get from seeing an anthology you edited published is not that different from that you feel when your novel comes out. It feels really good to help fellow writers achieving career goals even as you achieve your own. It feels really good to know someone finally made it into print with you. It feels good to see them published alongside respected colleagues like Mike Resnick, Jean Johnson, or David Lee Summers. It’s not entirely your own work, gestated for years, pounded through many drafts, yes, because it’s a community effort, but that doesn’t make the success of that any less different. Especially when, having finished, you feel like the writers have become better friends and people you’d welcome working with in the future and who would welcome the opportunity to work with you. And when the publisher asks you ‘what else have you got?’ Boy, that’s a great moment, too. I never looked down on editing as lesser–less of a craft, less significant than writing– but I also never realized how good it could feel to do it and see the end result published professionally. I’ve been proud of the books I edited which got published and were well received, but this pleased me more because I really played a more significant role in its creative design and overall final form by choosing stories, cover, writing intros, bios and the cover copy. It’s a really good feeling and I doubt anyone who takes it on would disagree.

Well, there’s 7 things I learned from editing Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6. What lessons have you learned from editing, working with writers, or editing others? I’d welcome comments. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

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