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How To Have Tourette’s Part 23 – Nothing Wrong With Normal

Note from Josh on comments: In the comments, debate is welcome, criticism is fine, but personal attacks will be deleted.

I am the most normal person I know. You might be tempted to argue, but bear with me.

Recently, a friend wrote to me and asked some questions. She mentioned several people she knows who can’t get over their limitations. Being the kind person that she is, she is trying to help them expand those limitations and improve themselves.

Here’s what she said:

“Josh, these are the sorts of reactions I get when I tell them about your situation” ( I personally I wouldn’t be the first person that I would point these people to, just so we’re clear)

After telling people about me, here are some of the reactions she received:

  • Well, he’s extraordinary and I’m not
  • Good for him but I just can’t do things that hard
  • He must be one of those people who don’t let limitations stop them
  • Well, but he must just be one of those people who loves a challenge, never gives up, prides himself on getting through the pain, kind of like the people in the Special Olympics
  • He must be someone who thrives on adversity
  • He probably loves to fight

By the time I finished the email I was shaking. I was shaking and I was thinking Are you kidding me? What a bunch of garbage. How did we get so good at lying to ourselves?

I was at the dentist again this morning. I’ll give you a clue as to what I was not thinking. I was not thinking:

  • Wow I love a good challenge
  • This really hurts, and because I’m the kind of person who thrives on adversity, there’s nowhere I’d rather be
  • I sure do love to fight
  • You know who’s extraordinary? Me!
  • I have no limitations

I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking: this sucks. I hate that I’m here again. Why do things have to be so hard? Why can’t I just go to work today like a normal person and be bored and happy instead of in this dentist’s chair?

I make things look easy and I smile because I’d disintegrate if I didn’t. This occasionally leads people to believe that it isn’t hard. But there’ s a big difference between something looking easy and feeling easy.

For the record

I do not love challenges.

I hate pain.

I don’t like a good fight and I am a completely ordinary person, because that is all that anyone is: a normal person with endless potential.

It is when we start telling ourselves that we can’t do things that we become abnormal. It is not normal to lie, and when we pretend we can’t reach our potential–that we can’t do anything to improve our situation–we become liars. We become abnormal. 

At one point in your life we each believed that we could make progress no matter what. We were right. If we are no longer those people, we can become so again.

Constant frustration without bitterness

There are things in my life that I despise and I am constantly frustrated by my (current) inability to overcome them. Most of the time I can’t control my body. And because the mind and body are linked, I often have a hard time controlling my mind as well.

But we all deal with hard things. My problems are not worse than anyone else’s.

My situation is often miserable, but the way I deal with it has nothing to do with being extraordinary and everything to do with being what I’m supposed to be: normal.

Miserable or not, I’m not bitter about any of it, because that would be useless. I won’t waste time wishing things were different, because they’re not different. I won’t waste time with wishful thinking, period. Because time is the only limiting factor to my progress. Yours too.

And while I hate the lows of pain and the frustration, I love the highs of progress, curiosity and improvement more. That’s why I chase them. Not to prove anything. Not to inspire or distract myself from my situation. Because I love them and progress is our birthright. Maybe even our obligation.

Everything can become a habit. Nothing is more insidious than the habit of knee-jerk complaining and pretending that other people just have “something” that we don’t. Something that makes them love/enjoy/seek pain and adversity and heartbreak and sorrow and dentists and frustration and I could go on all day but now I’m starting to shake again.

The people who refuse to get beaten down are the ones who don’t lie to themselves. They don’t say “I can’t” because that means pretending that there’s no choice.

Nobody has the right to hold someone else up as an example of why they can’t change themselves and their situation.

If we wouldn’t lie to someone else, we have no business lying to ourselves.

Here’s to being normal.


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  • Patty - Why Not Start Now? May 13, 2010, 1:48 am

    Hi Josh – I hear you. And I do understand why those comments would make you start to shake. And dare I say it, get a little angry? But can I ever-so-gently share a dissenting perspective? I don’t think those comments represent who those people really are. They’re just humans, like the rest of us. Trying to figure it out for themselves. So when your friend, who I’m sure has all good intentions, uses you as an example, it’s a little like saying, “What’s wrong with you? If Josh can do it, why can’t you?” People rarely respond well to that, and trying to motivate by comparing doesn’t usually work. We tend to react defensively and get a little prickly. So I think that’s what you’re hearing. The defensiveness. But I don’t think they’re lying to themselves. Just my take on it though, and I’m sure many will disagree.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 8:25 am

      Patty, you don’t even have to share it gently. If I’m wrong, it won’t be the last time. And those comments absolutely do NOT represent who those people are. They’re just comments and behaviors. Those people are certainly worth as much as anyone else.

  • Amy Harrison May 13, 2010, 5:53 am

    A lot of people want to believe it’s easy for someone else and I was talking about this with a friend who gets frustrated when people say “oh, but you’re a natural at music…”

    What they don’t see is the hours put in repeating one technique over and over and over again, refining and getting better at it. And the reason he does it is because he loves it, every obstacle or sticking point is something to be overcome so that he can continue to play music because it’s his passion.

    Perhaps, one part of it is that these people who are looking for excuses haven’t had a glimpse of their true passion? I don’t know.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 8:23 am

      I don’t know either. Some of what I wrote now looks a little patronizing to me, which wasn’t my intention at all. I don’t know what is best for anyone but me. But I do believe that too much time being depressed and stuck can’t be good.

  • Hilary May 13, 2010, 7:22 am

    Hi Josh .. you express yourself so well .. and yes I totally agree with you – especially on this side of the fence – we don’t make use of all our hours and minutes, or seconds – you do ….. you get fewer than we do .. but you maximise those with every bit of life blood you possess.

    It’s brilliant .. we can do as you do, or we can be lazy, blame others etc – and achieve little with this precious life we possess.

    Thanks for putting it across so succinctly .. wishing you the best and some happy times today – Hilary

    • Josh Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 8:20 am

      Hilary, if I came off as saying that I make the most use of all of my time and minutes, THAT’S a lie, too! I waste plenty of time, but I waste as little as possible moping and wishing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with moping, or being frustrated, or breaking down for a while. But the person I was for so long moped for so long that I got stuck. We get better at whatever we do most, and I was always getting better at getting depressed and worse. I just don’t want to do it anymore and I know what a trap it can be, because I let myself spend so much time there.

  • John May 13, 2010, 7:23 am

    Great post Josh….you are exactly right. People get to where they are, and achieve what they achieve through hard work and determination. Not because of some innate “something” that the rest of us don’t possess.

  • ami May 13, 2010, 7:42 am

    hmmmmm. Maybe the folks making excuses feel a perverse sense of jealousy that you (Josh) don’t have the same wealth of options (or escape hatches) as they do. Maybe they’re really saying “Curse my life of options and escape hatches! (and excuses).” Could having limited options be a blessing in disguise?

    I’ve read that, when you provide people with one choice for action, they go and do it. When you provide a number of choices, they get paralyzed with trying to decide what to do – and a large number end up doing nothing.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 8:17 am

      I don’t know. I’ve also read that one choice is no better than no choice. I think we all find ways to do nothing either way sometimes:) I certainly do.

  • PicsieChick May 13, 2010, 7:56 am

    You know, Josh, here’s the thing. I find you inspiring because you make that choice every moment you have to not be bitter.

    It’s so easy, as humans, for us to give into bitterness when things aren’t perfect. Sometimes it’s a subliminal thought – we don’t even realize that we’re thinking it – that eventually creeps into our minds and takes over our point of view.

    Just taming that nagging voice and the self-doubt it carries around is a struggle, but the struggle is worth it for the potential it bursts open for us.

    Sorry to say, yes, you are an inspiration. But not because I think you like what you’ve been given to deal with, but because you accept that things are difficult and you’re willing to find the way through to success in every way you can.

    Thank you for sharing all of you! I appreciate it!

    Hugs and butterflies,

    • Josh Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 8:16 am

      Teresa, I wrote this when I was extremely frustrated, and I think it shows. If someone is inspired, that’s wonderful. I do believe that real inspiration leads to actions. Heaven knows I am whoever I am because of how many inspiring people I’ve had around me in my life.

      Thanks as always.

  • Linda Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 8:09 am

    My favorite post to date. It’s incredibly hard to face our challenges and not easy for anyone. Mom

  • Kelly Diels May 13, 2010, 8:24 am

    I just e-mailed this post to a friend and this is what I wrote:

    “When I have wide and deep conversations with you, and swim through Danielle’s book, and read this from Josh, I think: we are extraordinary. All of us. And I’m not just talking about the four of us.”

    Normal is extraordinary. We’re all carrying our histories and our struggles in invisible suitcases, and sometimes – most of the time – they’re really heavy.

    But just as carrying and lifting heavy things can make us tired, and it can make us strong. And it does.

    • Picsiechick May 13, 2010, 9:43 am

      I so love this metaphor. Invisible suitcases. Kelly, you just always write the best stuff!!!

      And here’s a thought. When we share a little bit of those suitcases with those we love and those who love us, it’s like adding handles to it, and letting them carry just a little…..and it gets lighter and easier.

      Right now I’m thanking everyone who’s got my handle. 🙂

      Hugs and butterflies,

  • Dave Doolin May 13, 2010, 8:38 am

    Josh, you set the bar high and that’s a good thing.

    You also have a story. It’s good to have a story. Stories require conflict, struggle. Big struggle, big story.

    Everywhere, I hear and read, “Tell your story, Dave.” And I while I’m nodding sagely along, I’m thinking “What story? I have no story.” Ok, maybe that’s not true. My “invisible suitcase” is pretty large, but what people see is stiff upper lip. No struggle, no story.

    This could turn into a long article, but I haven’t had any coffee yet, so while I could write and write and write it wouldn’t make any sense.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 9:37 am

      Have that coffee then come back and write a guest post for me!

      • Picsiechick May 13, 2010, 9:51 am

        Yes, please! I want to hear the Story of Dave, too!


      • Dave Doolin May 13, 2010, 3:06 pm

        It’s been underway for a couple of weeks. I’m having to walk a fine line, sharing is one thing, being maudlin is quite another.

        I’m a huge fan of Sean Stephenson by the way. And Miles Vorkosigan for that matter.

        • Josh Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 3:20 pm

          Dave, Maudlin is such a great word. You would absolutely die of laughter if you could see my first couple of stabs at a “deep” novel. There’s enough angst in ten pages for 100 debuts.

  • Pauline May 13, 2010, 9:41 am

    Wonderful post, Josh. So clearly written, your frustration comes out, but best of all, your determination to forge ahead, no bitterness. Makes me feel better about how I deal with my own daily pain.

  • Lisis May 13, 2010, 10:55 am

    My dearest Josh… yet another brilliant post, though it pains me to think the email might have caused you even temporary distress and frustration. Lord knows that was never the intent… I’m sure you know that, too.

    This line, in particular, is absolutely priceless: “Nothing is more insidious than the habit of knee-jerk complaining and pretending that other people just have “something” that we don’t.” As Patty mentioned, we rarely respond well to comparison, and yet we are constantly looking to others to motivate and inspire us.

    I suppose when a person is ready to change limiting behaviors and attitudes, they will seek out the reinforcement and inspiration they need. Conversely, if a person is dead-set on a helpless victim mentality, they’ll find all the excuses and defensiveness in the world.

    I just want to thank you for this raw and emotive glimpse into your world. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne May 13, 2010, 11:55 am

      Lisis, I’m glad you sent it. And who knows? Maybe I’m just a huge baby. Or a diva. Or a drama queen. Or all of them combined. Or maybe I’m right. Or maybe I read your email at the wrong time and overreacted.

      I’ve heard a lot of writers say “Write as if you are writing to one person.” I try to do that, but the person I write to when I’m doing these sorts of posts is myself. If it ever reads as finger-in-your-face, get-your-act-together bossiness, it’s because I’m trying to do that to myself. And not everyone is going to love the things I say to myself:)

      You’re a good friend. They’re lucky to have you and so am I.

      • Lisis May 13, 2010, 12:30 pm

        I can totally see you as a diva. 😉

  • Justin Matthews May 13, 2010, 11:53 am

    Very nice post again Josh. With my daughter, I see people all of the time who use their “disease” (for lack of a better, more encompassing word” as a crutch.

    They use their kids to get sympathy from others. They use the “I can’t because (X) has this problem” instead of taking what you have and just living. You are still a great inspiration for that, for being “normal” in an abnormal situation.

    Our family aspires to that because who really wants to be treated as “special” for something that is a part of you.

    Forgive the plug, but we are in an organization called HopeKids and they are committed to giving good experiences to kids with cancer and other terminal diseases.

    We go to movies and other activities where all of these kids with various ailments can go and be together and just be “normal”. No one thinks anything of wheelchairs, trach tubes, feeding tubes, hair loss, nausea or oxygen tubes. They are all just normal kids. So many “normal” people steer clear of them because they have “something wrong with them” or look at them with pity (PITY for hells sake!) at their ailments. Pity is the last thing that any of these kids want.

    If people need real heroes in this day and age, go hang out with cancer kids on Chemotherapy. They have awesome and indomitable spirits, and they are some of the strongest people that I have ever met.

    It’s a good thing they are not librarians, or you would have some competition!

    You Rock Josh! Keep bringing us your stories of strength.

  • A powerful post today Josh. Sometimes it’s really good to write when you are frustrated. Usually the mood of the writer comes out and helps push the momentum of the piece.

    So, as you are sitting there in your dentist’s chair for the 45th time in a month, remember that we are all punching ourselves in the face with one habit or another. Whether it’s being too afraid to start a small business, not having the guts to pick up the phone, or lacking the motivation to get off the couch. Everyone’s got their evil little minion sitting on their should keeping them from completing something they want to do.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  • Mary May 13, 2010, 3:55 pm

    Great post Josh. I understand your frustration. I am a teacher of the deaf and when Elijah was diagnosed with his hearing loss at the age of five weeks, people thought it was “fortunate” that I was already a teacher of the deaf. NO, it wasn’t fair and it still isn’t fair to Elijah, it just IS. Even now, when people find out that I have been teaching deaf kids for almost 20 years and Elijah is only

    • Mary May 13, 2010, 3:58 pm

      submit got hit by mistake…sorry.

      Elijah is only 10 years old, they realize I was teaching deaf kids BEFORE he was born and say things like, “God knew what he was doing giving you this special child.” I can now handle it, but in the beginning I just wanted to scream.
      Now he has the tourette’s diagnosis as well as OCD and ADHD. This is my new challenge, because I am not the expert in this area. Thankfully, he is a very oral child and has excellent language skills. He wears 2 cochlear implant processors and can go to a typical school and doesn’t need sign language.
      It has been a long journey and we still have a ways to go.
      I more than understand your frustration. I still have days when I want to scream that it isn’t fair he is deaf, has TS, OCD and ADHD.

      • Picsiechick May 13, 2010, 4:06 pm

        Mary, I just want to send you 10 years of hugs and butterflies. And then new ones every single day.

        You are so right. It’s not fair. Not even a little.

        And I’m proud of you. You haven’t collapsed. Or if you have, you’ve gotten back up again. Yay, you!

        Hugs and butterflies,

        • Mary May 13, 2010, 4:43 pm

          Thanks Piciechick! I appreciate it!

      • Pauline May 18, 2010, 10:01 am

        Mary, I didn’t read this post until today so it’s a bit late. You are absolutely correct, it isn’t fair he is deaf, has TS, OCD, and ADHD. We are in something similar to this. It isn’t fair that the grandson is blind and has Aspergers. It doesn’t help that we are a family of teachers, we didn’t know Braille and it’s abysmally difficult to learn! Fortunately the Braille teachers have been terrific. Unfortunately, the regular teachers simply don’t get Aspergers. The combination of the two is awful, and when they don’t take the autism syndrome into account, the blind behaviors are mixed in with it. We understand your frustration. You are right to say it isn’t fair, it just IS.

        • Mary May 18, 2010, 10:34 am

          Thanks Pauline and I understand your frustration too. It is hard to know what causes what and how much each disability bleeds into the other. it just IS what it IS! Thanks and I hope things go well for your grandson.

  • Marti D May 13, 2010, 8:08 pm

    As always, a heart felt post that I’m sure will touch and encourage many.

    Congrats on reaching your 400th post. Looking forward to the next 400. 🙂

  • cinderkeys May 15, 2010, 3:10 am

    The people who refuse to get beaten down are the ones who don’t lie to themselves. They don’t say “I can’t” because that means pretending that there’s no choice.

    People do the opposite as well. They say, “It’s amazing how such-and-so has been taking care of his mother after she got Alzheimer’s. I could never do that.” Well, maybe they could and maybe they couldn’t, but I think what they really mean is, “Because I can’t handle caring for a sick parent, MY parents will never get Alzheimer’s.”