By: Justine Johnson
“You’re a freak. No one would ever tell you that, but you know it’s the truth. Why can’t you just shut up and sit still?”
Welcome to my brain.
Ever since I was seven, I have had mild Tourette syndrome, which is a neurological disorder caused by abnormalities in certain brain regions, the circuits that interconnect those regions and the neurotransmitters responsible for communication between nerve cells. In other words, the nerves send messed-up signals to each other and make me do unusual things such as batting my eyes, grunting and twitching my hands suddenly.
Those things are typically called “tics.” I once heard them described as “itches that will keep bugging you until you scratch them just right.” Some people can keep from scratching for longer than others — I have taught my body to wait until I am alone to itch, and for the most part, I am successful. Basically, I’ve gotten really good at wearing a mask to “protect” myself.
There are times, however, when the tics take hold of my existence and physically shake me for about thirty seconds. I’ve come to label these “tic attacks.” In those moments where I have lost all control over what my body is doing, I feel like a raw, pulsing wound that is just waiting to be discovered by an unintentional nudge from a passing coat sleeve. It is in these agonizingly helpless times that I tell myself, “You can stop it. Just stop it.” But I can’t. And it’s terrifying.
“You’re a freak.”
I’ve always known the verse about being fearfully and wonderfully made, but believing it to the point of feeling free to tic in the presence of anyone and everyone has been a challenge. Surely people would judge me; surely I would no longer be looked at with the same acceptance as my friend with the mole on her chin or the guy with acne on his face. I often feel like a freak, to be completely honest. The paradoxical reality is that, in my mind, my tics are glaringly obvious to the world and they should be hidden, but I also want to show everyone because I want them to understand my struggle.
Sometimes I ask myself what it would be like to feel “normal” according to the world’s standards. Many of my friends here at college have a habit of saying that “Normal is overrated.” But really, how often do we unconsciously alter our behavior just to feel like we are fitting in with everyone else? We may say that it doesn’t matter to us, but let’s face it: we all want to be accepted by others. Even more thought-provoking for me is the question of whether or not I purposely alter my behavior to see what reaction I might get from someone else. That’s not normal—is it?
Further, what is “normal,” truly? I think we often base our definition of the regular upon what doesn’t make others uncomfortable; we are highly conscious of what might bring disapproving looks from our peers. Should we really be focused on maintaining this expectation? Is it even attainable?
When I was a senior in high school, I went to a youth conference called Acquire the Fire, and the theme was “Normal Is Not Enough.” For a day and a half, the speakers and music artists talked about the importance of leaving the ordinary to become extraordinary. I think this concept can be applied to more than our faith; it could also be useful when evaluating how we view ourselves. If we place the task of living an extraordinary life upon our own shoulders, we are setting the bar higher without the fetters of peer approval on our ankles.
Therefore, if we are to make our lives extraordinary, “normal” is not the first prize, by any means. In reality, every single one of us is unique and that uniqueness prevents us from being genuine and “normal” simultaneously.
I’ll never be “normal” according to society’s standards. If I were to strip away all of the supposed perceptions that I think other people have of me, I would look just like everyone else; I would look human. True, I will always feel “different,” but that needs to be okay with me. Besides, we are all different—from each other. I believe that God has a perfect plan for each one of us, and not despite the flaws. Because of them.
To everyone reading this who feels like they have to change something about themselves in order to fit in, stop for a moment. You are not alone, and you are not a freak. None of us are. To quote The Help, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”