Danielle

 

Definition of Normal:

 Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

 (Of a person) free from physical or mental disorders.

 (Of a line, ray, or other linear feature) intersecting a given line or surface at right angles.

-Oxford English Dictionary

 

It is extremely difficult for one to grow up without a diagnosed learning and social disability. In my youth, often I couldn't understand facial expressions and would experience extreme bursts of emotion and energy, and could easily recognize patterns within numbers and symbols. I would often be tormented for these characteristics at school by fellow classmates and even teachers, as you can imagine, this did not improve the situation.

 

So you adapt, you learn to fit in with your surroundings. It's survival of the fittest, and this continued throughout my school life. Constantly checking your actions, others' actions and words. Imagine you have several programs in your head. Most people have one or two that they need to operate manually and the other programs are automated (because social skills come naturally to most). For myself, it's as if all of the programs have a glitch, and so they need constant supervision. It’s not only exhausting but you feel like an alien, inhuman, a freak, distant and alone. Constantly checking my actions soon led to severe anxiety, and in later years, depression.

 

I copied the actions, words and even hobbies of my classmates over the years. I was, to anyone’s first impression, completely “normal”. However, even though I was copying my classmates’ exact behavior, the bullying continued. In grade 9 I decided to give up this hopeless endeavor and let my true self and interests develop. My grades increased dramatically because previously I had been following the other students’ example by hating school. Of course, the bullying only worsened as my grades increased. Which, in turn, worsened my anxiety and depression. I turned to my family and passions for support. Math and physics became a sort of protective shield for me, I write physics equations as a strategy to calm down and it was great because nobody else could understand it. In grade 11, I was finally diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Not that it changed anything socially, I just finally understood why I couldn’t understand facial expressions, or why I have extreme bursts of energy and emotion, or can recognize patterns.

 

When I graduated high school, I was the top student and I broke the record for the highest average obtained in the IB Diploma program, with an average of 98%. I have learned that there are so many more benefits to letting yourself explore your differences and embracing your mental health, and that mimicking goes nowhere. I have learnt to appreciate my autism, depression and anxiety. They’re not going to disappear anytime soon, so why not embrace them as a part of yourself? I believe that without them, I would not have done so well academically as I did. I would not be in my engineering class surrounded by fellow socially-awkward nerds aiming for a PhD. My experiences also make me wonder how many other people are just acting to seem ordinary? How many other people hide mental health issues?

 

Hence, how can we know if someone is truly free from a mental disorder? We can’t, and that’s why the only definition of normal I will accept is a mathematical one.

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