I got to make some new friends tonight. I was invited to Bangor’s local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I am a person in recovery from mental illness. I struggled with depression for much of my life.
I’m much better now – partly because I received a lot of good therapy and mostly because I met and connected intimately with people who see themselves as being broken just like me. I got to share my stories of being a social misfit with folks at NAMI (seriously they’re cool go see them and thank me later). The visit brought to mind a blog I wrote years ago. I’m recycling parts of it in hopes it may help some folks know that you’re not alone: the very best people are misfits.
I’ve gotten pretty good at eliminating soul sucking people from my life. It’s not important to me that we may be related. Sharing DNA doesn’t make you my family – sharing the good and bad of life with me and genuinely caring makes you a member of my chosen family. I don’t care that we went to high school together, worked for the same asshole boss together, live in the same neighborhood or that our kids grew up together. What I care about is, are you a real person?
Real people are hard to come by and nearly all of us are misfits. Many of us can pass for “normal” but that’s just because we’re good at hiding our true selves from those who would judge us harshly. In this context, hiding isn’t being fake – for us it’s being private when we choose to be.
I’m working with this amazing young woman. She’s just “coming into her own.” I’d like to describe her as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon but what she’s been surrounded by wasn’t safe and protective. She’s breaking away from a toxic family bit by bit and she’s scared shitless. She’s ashamed and in a quiet voice she confides, “I’m not like most people. I’m not normal.”
My heart swells – she’s 19. She thinks it was her fault they rejected her and she thinks being normal is a desirable thing to be.
At 19 it’s not helpful for me to shower her with a bunch of ideas about being a nonconformist or to explain why being “normal” is limiting. Instead I asked her if she likes Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. She blushed. “Remember the Island of Misfit Toys?” She nods. The toys thought they were broken and that nobody wanted them, but they found each other and became a family. In the end it turned out that despite being different; they were wanted.
That’s us – that’s how we are. We are different but in very good ways. Nobody loves like we love. Nobody laughs like we laugh. Nobody will ever be as honest with you as we will. Our loyalty to each other is fierce and we are the very best people to call at 3am when the wheels have come off the bus because nobody can be there for you like we can.
Despite being so good to each other, our struggle is to be good to ourselves. The world feels very cold when you don’t know other misfits. It’s not like we’re out in the world with identifying tee shirts. We must be willing to take some risks in order to connect. To seek us out is to go to places where people have truly suffered and then to note that we are overcoming suffering, moving away from survival and progressively toward living a life second to none.
You can find us in psych beds, homeless shelters, and sometimes in jails and prisons. You can find us in AA, NA, CODA, Nar Anon meetings and in group therapy. You can also find us in board meetings and places everywhere where people are doing things passionately, creatively, and with great love. Just talk to us, trust your intuition, and take a chance.
Life is too hard alone. I’m here. I care. I’m fucked up, but I’m getting better every day.