In my head, I’m normal

Triceratops-eye view

The other day I was chatting with a new friend and the conversation turned to mental illness. I ticked off the people in my life who’ve led me to experience the rockier road of mental health but it wasn’t until later that evening I realized I’d forgotten to include myself.



Switch scenarios to the Telegraph blog, where I posted an excerpt from a piece I wrote entitled “How BPD made me a better expat”. A charming man had left a comment detailing his certainty of the fact that my perception of myself, my neighbours, dammnit! even the human race, was questionable. He sneeringly advised me to “keep avoiding the pills”.

I was floored, because his view of me was so at odds with my own. He’d written me off as some nut-job after reading a couple of hundred words, whereas I didn’t really see myself as ill at all. I knew better than to take his comment seriously but nonetheless it made me think. Is that how people see me? Was my illness obvious? I’d always imagined no-one knew of it unless they’d read my blog. Was my refusal to let my struggles beat me construed as denial?  An image of my father floated into my head, scattering his pills around the kitchen as he laughingly refused to accept he was ill. Was I no better?




Sure I experience personal difficulties in certain areas, but so do many people. I would even go so far as to argue that I’ve learned skills to deal with these challenges that leave me better equipped than most to deal with them.

While I’m not in denial – I knew I was ill and fought hard for a diagnosis – I don’t see my problems as an insurmountable obstacle to functioning in the world. For a long time after I was diagnosed I didn’t really research my illness at all. I didn’t want to absorb excuses that would let me off the hook of trying.




My entire life has been a struggle to understand mental health/illness. When I was younger, I tried to understand my father’s condition. How much of his abusive behavior was down to his illness and how much of it was the “real” him? Where was the crossover line? I could have been blaming the illness for what was actually a character trait. I studied Psychology at college in the hopes of increasing my understanding.

During my teens my own struggles began, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I just believed my parents when they told me I was moody, spoilt, ungrateful and worse. I agonized over my inability to control my feelings, my propensity for despair. My self-esteem was obliterated by doubt. The dislike my parents had for me, I turned on myself. antidepressants didn’t make much of a difference; drugs and alcohol couldn’t blot it out. Life was about hanging on, nothing more. I studied Psychology at university in the hopes of increasing my understanding.

Later, I grew to see my mother’s manipulative behavior for what it was. My father, with his overt violence and aggression was an easy scapegoat for her more devious machinations. The more I investigated I realized her mental state was no better than his. I began to untangle the web of lies.

I always saw my difficulties in terms of something that could be fixed given the right treatment. I put distance between myself and my parents, I sought help for my depression – I knew if I could just break my negative thought-patterns, find a way to like myself and talk my feelings through with someone who understood, I could have a normal life.




Author’s note, June 2014: Since the time of writing I’ve been re-diagnosed with Aspergers and Bipolar II. I no longer meet the criteria for BPD and given the existing cases of Aspergers and bipolar in my direct family I have to admit this re-diagnosis seems a more accurate explanation for my symptoms. Oh, the beauty of hindsight… 



Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Aisha, you are brave and unique and as solid as they come. You couldn’t have a stable, happy marriage, be raising 3 strong, happy children and expressing yourself as a fully invested writer if you weren’t doing so well. You write to express yourself, to share your experience with others (offering much needed hope) and to celebrate the fact that your perseverance has paid off. So many depressed, sad, longtime ‘blue’ people out there, not getting help, not seeing that there is another way, not knowing how to take the next step – THEY are the ones you must continue writing to. That commenter saw 2 words that colored his perception and triggered his caustic, demeaning remark: mental illness. The irony is that he is likely an unhappy, suffering person who may well fit under that very big umbrella. Write on…

  2. I completely agree with some of the other comments, normality is relative and also subjective. I want to say “within reason” but suppose that’s where the grey area creeps in? Everybody reasons differently…
    You seem great to me, I can’t wait till I’m as ill as you are!

  3. the way you describe it is so clear that i found myself in some expressions , it is difficult to write in words what you feel in pain and emotions, so great job !!

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