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Rethinking 'Normal' as an Adult With Late-Diagnosed ADHD

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“But what is normal?” he challenged.

A feeling of defensiveness bristled up inside me. Who was he to question my feelings of being different, of not fitting in, and of being at odds with the expectations society places on older women in the ‘burbs? I was vulnerable, sharing my feelings about not fitting into the norm, a theme that I had experienced my entire life. Who was he to challenge me?

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He is my therapist. Let’s call him Dave. Dave is not like the smile-and-nod therapists I had experienced in the past. I had suspected one (at least) had been writing shopping lists or doodling instead of taking meaningful notes to help me. Not this guy. He was calling me out on my perception of normal.

I paused. This wasn’t the first time he had asked me this question, but it was the first time I had really listened. Previously, I had brushed it off, thinking it rhetorical. But no; it was a real question.

Other people are “normal.” People without my quirks. Those who don’t obsess about the way a waistband feels and whether it’s feeling tighter and thinking back on what I ate and think oh-shit-I’m-getting-fat. Those who can process information fast enough in their online French course and don’t spend the rest of the evening crying about their “stupidity.” People who can follow a straight path, instead of going in circles and forgetting where the path is, or that there was a path to begin with. Those with normal minds where life would be easier and not a chaotic shit show.

I remained quiet, not knowing where to begin.

“Not being in someone else’s head,” Dave continued, “you cannot possibly know what they are thinking and who they really are. Perhaps they are wearing a mask.” He said it in a way that alluded to anecdotal evidence.

By definition, “normal” means “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” Reflecting on those nearest and dearest to me, I realized that what I love most about them is that they are quite the opposite. Their uniqueness is delightful. I smile as I write this, thinking about their beauty, intelligence, perspective, wit, honesty… there is so much to love. It is their acceptance that I value.

If normal truly exists, is it really something to aspire to? Who are the standard holders? Do we know? Should we care?

Perhaps it is better for us to stop comparing ourselves to a nebulous version of normal and spend our time and energy working toward living authentically? Perhaps we should:

1. Drop the mask.

This may seem counterintuitive. Many of us had been taught, directly or indirectly, to mask our true selves. We all want to be accepted and loved; we are human. I believe there are times when a degree of masking is necessary, but it is tragic for people to spend their entire lives obscured behind a façade.

2. Trust your authenticity.

Like attracts like. Living authentically allows you to be the best version of yourself. Doing what you love puts you in spaces where others can be drawn to you, into your orbit, and vice-versa. You will find your place and your tribe organically, by being in a comfortable environment and doing what you love.

3. Break up with the concept of “normal.”

Think of it like being in a toxic relationship, where another continually quashes your authenticity in favor of… anything else. Consider that it’s not you, it’s them. End it now and embrace yourself.

“That’s a really good question,” I answered.

I hope you agree.

Getty image by Elena Medvedeva.

Originally published: January 4, 2022
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