I have so many rules for life. They cover everything–what I say, how I say it, what I do. The order that I stack the dishwasher in (top rack always first), when I take a shower (never first thing in the morning unless I have to), how many rotations of the teaspoon in a hot drink before tapping the spoon (only once!) on the edge of the cup.
Some are habit, some change over time, and others are more like guidelines. Plenty of them are ridiculous. I sit on the same seat on the bus whenever I can (the seat above the rear wheel, on the passenger side) and get irritable if someone is already there, or is sitting in the seats in front or behind that seat (unless a bus is crowded, I don’t sit immediately behind or in front of other people).
Some are useful. My house key always goes into a particular pocket of my handbag. My phone must spend the night connected to the charger. Some only apply in urgent situations, like lying down the instant I feel dizzy. They all have some reasoning to them, even if it only makes sense to me.
There’s one rule that overrides them all. Rule #1: Don’t be weird.
This is the hardest one. Especially when having so many rules like this is, in itself, weird. It’s the “don’t be weird” rule that forces me to ignore the ways I am more comfortable doing things, to do them in ways that are more acceptable and expected. It’s the rule that makes me walk when my impulse is to skip, stay silent when I feel like singing, and stay fixed in place while lights and sound flash and boom around me.
I don’t like this rule. I want to believe that I can let go and be myself.
It just doesn’t work that way. People shy away from you if you’re skipping, stare at the girl singing to herself in the supermarket. They see a person too pathetic and weak to cope with life.
And how do you explain? You can’t. You can’t defend yourself against these ideas, because the truth is–you are weird. You can’t get through any day without time in a quiet, dark place. That’s not normal. You get so irritated by light and sound that it sets your brain on fire. You feel it like an electrical storm in your mind, pressure building until you finally snap. You shake, dig your nails into your palm and try and hold it together for just another few minutes.
Because anything else is weird. It’s weak. It’s bullshit–some invented experience. No one else experiences the world that way, so it must be a lie.
Or maybe they do. Maybe everyone does. Maybe if you just tried harder still to be a real and normal person, you wouldn’t need these weird coping strategies. It’s your own fault for being weird, you do it to yourself. There’s nothing about you that isn’t the same in every other person, so your failure is exactly that. You’re pathetic.
So what then? You can’t talk about it–you can’t give people the opportunity to say to your face how pathetic your bullshit is. You can’t explain it anyway, especially when it’s happening. You don’t have words. Just feelings, and feelings do not convert to words easily. Feelings need to be processed and reflected on.
Nor can you ignore it entirely. The price of pretending to keep up with everyone else is a state of constant distress. Exhaustion and physical sickness. Regulating yourself at every turn to make sure that what you’re doing is okay, appropriate, acceptable. Keeping it up while you’re in company. Letting it go when there’s no one around to judge.
And you’re ashamed, because you shouldn’t need this. It shouldn’t happen. You don’t see anyone else excusing themselves to wind down so soon. You don’t see them with their hands over their ears or eyes to block out what is too much.
You pretend to be the same, denying yourself the short breaks that help (normal people don’t need to do that) and pushing through until you either get an opportunity to retreat in an acceptable way, or snap. Whichever comes first.
At any cost, remember Rule #1: Don’t be weird.