By your definition, what is “normal”?
Ha! No such thing. By spending so many years so closely tied to prison, a little cynicism developed—and there are days “normal” frightens me. Sometimes I fear that if I were "normal" (whatever on Earth that is) I would be dull and uninterested in the world around me.
Honestly, I don't know what normal is. I suspect everyone has a different definition--what seems "freakish" to one person might be perfectly normal to another, and vice versa.
Among the signs of suicidal behavior are “excessive shame,” “withdrawing from people,” “feeling trapped, like there is no way out,” and “feeling hopeless.” How would you relate those feelings to your experiences of wishing to be someone else?
Well, I think people who wallow in a desire to be someone other than who they are usually wind up disappointed when they do not become that person—whether it’s a desire to look different, live differently, own more, know more, do more. Lack of acceptance of self can certainly lead to feeling hopeless, and there is nothing worse than that sense of hopelessness. I don’t know the cure. For me it’s always been fighting to be who I am and to find some way to be okay with that, and learning to surround myself with those who love me (and to shy away from those who do not).
You wrote “What we see on the outside seldom even scratches the surface of an individual’s inner truths.” Please elaborate on this.
I think this probably is at the heart of the reason I’m a writer. I write to discover what I think, what I know, what I didn’t know I knew. Writing takes me to depths of understanding (of myself, particularly) in a way nothing else can (except perhaps meditation). I’ve been teaching memoir and personal essay for fifteen years, and if I’ve learned nothing else from this experience it’s that we never ever know at first glance (or the fifteenth) what’s going on inside a person’s head or heart. I believe in listening, closely, and in withholding judgment (every student I’ve ever taught has surprised me).
You talked about the “transformative power of speaking your truths out loud.” How has speaking your truths out loud transformed you?
Absolutely—although I think I would amend that to say “writing truth” and I’ll amend that to add: It is vital to be open to what others say in response to your own truths, to listen with an open mind and open heart. But putting what I have to say out into the world has strengthened my sense of self. I know there’s more to say about this, but for now…