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
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Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3874125.Bryan_Thomas_Schmidt

Memories of My Wife Bianca

Last Tuesday, 1 month before our 4th anniversary, I had to put my wife in the mental hospital against her will for the second time. Bianca is a highly intelligent, gentle, sweet, giving, joyful person. But when her bipolar II flares up she’s angry, mean, arrogant, and mischievous. I woke up at 5 a.m. and found her cutting phone chords and cables for the internet with a scissor because “I don’t like that stuff there.” This was after I’d already tried once to get police to take her in. They refused because she looked normal to them. They don’t know her. How would they know normal for her? In any case, I worried she’d cut an electrical chord and start a fire or electrocute herself. So it was time.

This is the second time in two years I’ve had to commit her. Having to put someone you love in the hospital against their will, while they beg you not to, is the most painful experience ever. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I’ve done it three times, twice the first incident, once now. It took four of us to literally carry her to the car while she fought and screamed, then me to drive us 30 minutes to the hospital, again while she screamed and insulted us. It’s weird to look in the face of the woman you love and see a stranger looking back at you. A stranger who looks just like her, has the same voice, but says things which sound nothing like her.

I try very hard to block those memories. Most of the time I can. I don’t want to remember her this way. I prefer to remember her as the woman who blessed my life, the one I fell in love with. I’m pained by the memory of how much I took her for granted in the months preceding this relapse. I should have been her biggest cheerleader when she finally got to live her dream and go back to school to finish her degree. She was doing so well, making awesome grades, and she was working 30 hours and going to school 18. I was so wrapped up in my worries, I was lackluster in my enthusiasm, and I feel like such a jackass now. The times she wanted to cuddle and I was so busy with writing, I put it off and never got back to it. The times I didn’t listen when she was so excited to tell me something mid-draft. I feel like such a loser. Here’s the woman who chose me. After years of failed romances, after 37 years alone thinking I’d never find anyone, she chose me, and I was so unappreciative so much of the time.

When I went away to Rainforest Writers, my thought was that it would be good to have time away to refresh our relationship. The moment I arrived, I missed her and wished she was there. Little did I know that when I got home, I’d still be missing her, because I haven’t seen the real Bianca since before I left.

The real Bianca is such a delight to be with. She is so enthusiastic, often seeing the world through a child’s eyes. She’s fascinated by people, places, language — so many things I easily write off as ordinary. And through her observations, she helps me look at the world in new ways. It’s a real help to me as a writer. And it’s something about her I have always treasured. She’s a great cook and a good housewife. She’s thoughtful even when I’m not. Oh she has her faults, of course, but I have more. And the fact that she’s always loved me and thinks I’m cute, handsome, wonderful always blows my mind.

I so wish it could be me and not her. I wish I was the one in the hospital. I wish it was me losing my job, dropping out mid-semester of my school, etc. If I could take her place in a moment, I so would, because I suffer so much for her. It breaks my heart every time I think about it. I am crying as I type this because I feel such despair, such hopelessness, and such fear that I will lose her, that this is it, that she’ll never get through this. It’s so hard to not get much information from the hospital due to privacy laws. Biance is in no condition to sign a waiver, so the hospital has to protect itself from lawsuits, even though I’m the husband. It’s so difficult to see her struggling and not be able to protect her; to be made the bad guy in manic Bianca’s eyes, when all I did I did to protect her and get her the help she so desperately needs. I wouldn’t wish this situation on my worst enemy. And it makes me determined to do all I can to build awareness and find support for developing a cure to all mental illness.

What a horrible thing it is to see someone with such skill and potential robbed of their life by such a horrible disease. To see them so destructive when they don’t even know what they’re doing. To see them resist the help they need when it’s right there in front of them. I curse Satan and beg God to please help my wife. Give me back my lover, my best friend. I wish it was so easy. Every moment is agony as I’m forced to wait and see if things will ever be the same again. I have small hope in the fact that our marriage came back better than ever from the last time. I can only hope she’ll feel that way and be ready to try again.

It’s hard to know that this kind of thing will likely happen again–it’s cyclical, so probably every two years. On the other hand, I’ve heard stories of people who take their meds and are stable the rest of their lives, so I hope that for her. And yet I fear days to come. If I get her back I intend to treasure every moment, and I hope I don’t forget. I must never allow myself to be too busy to appreciate her. I must let her know how much she means to me, and I must remind her daily of that. Maybe the strength of my love will help her. I hope so. I know the strength of her love has helped me. And I know I feel so lost at the idea of going on without her. Sometimes you don’t realize what you have in the throes of everydaydom. How sad and pathetic a trait is that in human beings? Why does it take a crisis like this to remind us how lucky we are?

I don’t know the answer but I know I need to do better at fighting off that complacency and being appreciative. If only I get another chance. If only I get my Bianca back.

For what it’s worth…

A Letter To BiPolar Disorder

Dear Bipolar Disorder:

I hate you! You know who you are. You’re the one who takes a beautiful, intelligent, determined, kind, giving, loving, wonderful girl and turns her into a stranger who rants, yells, destroys, and insults. You’re the one who steals time, precious time away from her husband and family. You’re the one who makes her risk her life by wandering on an interstate, going where she shouldn’t go, doing what she wouldn’t go.

You’re a destroyer of relationships; a thief of hope; a breaker of hearts; a robber of peace. You’re a divider of households; a ruiner of reputations; and a restrainer of potential.

I swear, Bipolar Disorder, you will not defeat us. I will not allow you to be the winner here. I will not allow you to rule the day. You will lose this battle. We will fight until we find a cure. We may fail from time to time as we learn more and more about you. But we will conquer you, make no mistake about it.

We will win because our victory is founded on love not destruction. We will win because our determination is to live free, not die captive. We will win because we are stronger, we are more determined, and we are better than you could hope to be.

You’re going down one day, Bipolar Disorder. Get ready for it. We will dance together, hand in hand, upon your grave.

With all my heart,