Why the author needs dysfunctional people in his life.
Mood music for this post: “California Uber Alles” by The Dead Kennedys:
In one of our many discussions over what she doesn’t like about me and my way of life, my mother often lamented that whatever she didn’t like was “just not normal.”
Truth is, I don’t think I’ve ever met a normal person in my nearly 40 years on this planet.
I prefer it that way.
Normal means you get a long with everyone. You never make waves. You have a perfect family that never, ever fights.
In the parental world view described above, you do everything exactly the way your parents want you to. You always put them first — even before your own wife and kids.
You never piss off your work colleagues and you dive into new work initiatives with a big smile on your face, regardless of whether you believe it’ll work or not.
Have you ever met someone like this?
I’ve learned something valuable on my long journey of recovery from mental illness and addiction: There is no such thing as normal. We are all crazy — some a little bit, some a lot.
For me, the key has been to manage my own brand of dysfunction so that it doesn’t force all the big stuff in life to a grinding halt. If it messes with my work and my ability to be there for my wife and children, then that is NOT OK. That’s what happens when you’re tight in the grip of depression and addiction like I was.
I have my recovery, but I’m still dysfunctional in a lot of ways.
My life is a twisted wreckage of sarcasm, journalism, history fanatic, metal fanatic, devout Catholicism and family. [For more on this, see The Case for Multiple Personalities.] I don’t drink alcohol, smoke pot or eat anything with flour or sugar. I’m in bed early and wake up even earlier. Yet I’m still hopelessly addicted to coffee, Red Bull and I love an occasional cigar. [More on this in How to Play Addiction Like a Piano.]
But it’s a pile of wreckage that sails well enough through rough seas when all the pieces are fused together just right. Sometimes it’ll sway too hard from left to right and pieces will come loose. But it never sinks.
I also believe that no family or office is worth being in without an assortment of dysfunctional personalities.
During my daily newspaper days, one guy constantly picked fights with his editors, shouted F-bombs across the newsroom and always looked like he’d have a stroke at any second. Once, he nearly got fired for telling a reader who didn’t like something he wrote to fuck off by e-mail.
He also exposed a lot of evils in the communities he covered and in some cases it led to new anti-fraud laws being enacted. And if a co-worker was in a bind, he was always among the first to offer a helping hand. He might trash talk that person an hour or a day after helping them, but he’d come back a day later and help that same person if they needed it. If he were more normal, I’m not so sure he’d have the same impact he has had.
When I hang out in a cigar shop, I run into a lot of characters who would be considered dysfunctional. One guy sat down next to me and a friend one night and started describing the government and everything else as a “fuck show.” He slurred every word, though I’m pretty sure he was sober. We were certain his brain had burned to a cinder long ago and all that was left functioning was his mouth. Then he started to talk some more and we discovered he was a former teacher who really knew his history and social studies.
I also know a lot of recovering addicts who are able to help lead people to recovery even though they can’t string more than two words together or tie their shoes before leaving the house. No wonder lace-less footwear is so popular.
The point is that we’re all dysfunctional to some extent. We should be accepting of that — even a bit grateful.
Normal is a boring, stagnant concept that doesn’t really exist anyway. Remember the movie “Pleasantville,” where everyone had squeaky clean, conflict-free lives of black and white? The people in that world only started to live and experience color when the dysfunctional siblings entered the picture.
Next time someone complains that you’re not normal or that you are a source of dysfunction, just correct them and point out that you are merely interesting — after you tell ’em to go screw.