I picked today’s book from my bookshelf for one reason and one reason only: The title. Yes, sometimes it really is that simple.
Passing for Normal by Amy S. Wilensky is the kind of book that needs to be written, at least every so often. ‘Cause, for all our enlightenment about people with disabilities and mental health issues, we’re still woefully behind.
This is a memoir… and could have been written by anyone. Just plug-in any ol’ invisible health issue and you’ve got the bare bones of this book. Not to say it’s ho hum… it is NOT. All I mean is: there are so many of us! Any of us could have written it. Wilensky is the one who did, as it happens.
She has Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive -Compulsive Disorder. These disorders are mostly invisible… until, of course, they aren’t. The same could be said of many neurological disabilities and mental health issues. I went to my old pal Google, who told me: Invisible disabilities can also include chronic illnesses such as renal failure, diabetes, and sleep disorders if those diseases significantly impair normal activities of daily living. … 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with an illness that is invisible. Jun 11, 2018
Which takes me to another book. I hope you’ll indulge me as I step off the path for a moment to include it in this discussion. It’s a book I owned but somewhere along the line, donated to a thrift store. I now wish I hadn’t. Story of my life. Ugh. The other book is called No Pity by Joseph P. Shapiro and it was required reading for a Psychology of Disabilities class I had in college. There’s a long story about how I became interested in this course of study – best left for another time.
I bring it up because, as the title implies, No Pity is about -NOT- having pity on people with disabilities… and treating them like anyone else, among other topics of interest to the disabilities community. It’s an excellent read, if you’re interested.
While it’s an important read, it makes things murky. As a society, we’re still trying to get disabilities awareness, acceptance and accessibility right… and books like No Pity *might* confuse the issue. Ya think?
Passing for Normal is very good. It’s also very difficult reading, not because it’s above our heads… but because it’s emotional and at times, heartbreaking. Imagine having the significantly difficult disorders of Tourette’s and OCD (links above for more info) but not knowing until you’re in college.
Actually, I can imagine, at least to a certain degree, because my ADHD, depression and anxiety were not formally diagnosed until I was in my 30s.
So, all the time BEFORE the diagnosis, you’re trying to be…
Whatever the hell that is.
Once Wilensky knows what she’s actually dealing with… she grapples with labels, treatments and a growing sense of her strengths, limitations and behaviors that make her… HER. This narrative is compelling, tragic and somehow, infused with humor.
Honest and informative, this is a book worth your time and attention, especially if you love someone with an invisible illness – physical, mental or emotional. If you are the person with the diagnosis, you’ll be vindicated and validated.
Will you find the answer to the question, “What is normal?”
Nobody can answer that. Because nobody is that. <<< By the way, Wilensky didn’t say it. I did.
*Originally written by me for this blog on September 6, 2018