if I could choose a normal life, would I?


Ask anyone with depression, anxiety, bipolar, and any other type of mental illness this: “If you could choose a normal life, would you?” Their responses might surprise you – I surprised myself too.

My instant gut reaction was “Yes! Of course!” as I read the subject heading of an email a good friend of mine forwarded to me.

However, as I read on, I had second thoughts… maybe I do not want to be normal…
I met Dr Karl Jacobs a few years ago during one of my recovery spurts. In fact, I started this blog the week I was under his care. Since then, we have kept in touch and he sends me inspirational material every now and then via email. He sent me the below email which I felt compelled to share verbatim. He received the email from an unknown source and we couldn’t trace the author of this to ask for his permission and to give due credit. I hope one day I find him or her though, so I can extend my thanks personally.

If I could choose a normal life, would I?

People often ask me, if I could choose a normal life, would I? When I think about that, I have to honestly answer that I wouldn’t.

Yes, sure, I would love to be able to cope better with life every day, to be able to face the dark and light; but I cannot. I was diagnosed with severe bipolar 1, with constant mixed state, at age 16, and mild Asperger’s at age 30. To most, this would be a death sentence. Constant medication, utter depression, mania, so intense that one does the stupidest things.

Yes, I would like to choose to be able to study, and become the doctor I always wanted to be; yes, I would love to go out in the sun, and not be annoyed by loud noises; yes, I would choose to not disappoint people; yes, I would choose not to be embarrassed; yes, I would love to look “normal”!

But I am not; and no, I would not choose to be different. Why?

Vincent van Gogh cut of his ear, and had to burn his paintings to stay warm today they are sold for hundreds of millions of dollars.

Virginia Woolf was utterly depressed, and eventually she filled her pocket with stones and drowned herself. Today she is noted as one of the greatest novelists of all time.

Albert Einstein was seen as a mad scientist, his theories made people angry. Today he is seen as probably the brightest man that ever lived.

Winston Churchill was so depressed that he called it the “black dog”. Today he is an almost mythical person, wrapped in legend.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was seen as a silly man, and irritated most people. He died alone, and was buried in a mass grave. Today his music is seen as some of the greatest ever composed.

Ludwig von Beethoven became deaf early in his life. This was a terrible blow for him. He composed complete symphonies whilst being deaf. Today, almost everyone recognizes a Beethoven tune.

Jacqueline Du Prez was seen as a mad woman. She would leave her cello in the snow when she was angry. She died of multiple sclerosis. Today she is regarded as the greatest cellist that ever lived.

Florence Nightingale was diagnosed as Bipolar. Today she is remembered as one of the great nurses of all time.

Edgar Alan Poe was a sufferer of Bipolar. Today he is recognized as one of the great authors.

Even sufferers of the more serious mental disorder like schizophrenia became world famous, people like:
John Nash – Mathematician
Antoine Artaud – Playwright
Peter Green – guitarist for Fleetwood Mac
Vaclav Nijinsky – one of the greatest ballet dancers
The list goes on……

So then am I saying that I am destined for greatness? No, that is not what I am saying.

What I am saying is that I am in the company of great people. And for that I am thankful.

I have chatted to people that write the most incredible poetry and paint the most beautiful paintings, and the next day you hear they committed suicide. I have met people that have so much compassion for other people because they truly understand the meaning of misery.

But then to return to the question. Would I choose to be normal?

I would not choose to be a 16 year old kid that severed arteries and have to stay in hospital for 3 months (yes that was me), but I would choose a life where I understand passion, where I feel with all my heart and soul.

I would not choose to lose interest in everything, even those you love; but I would choose to fully grasp pain and suffering.

I would not choose to spend my life alone, but I would choose to love utterly, when I do.

So, to conclude: I am sorry for all the things that I did wrong when I was not well, but I am NOT sorry for being me.

We live in misery, we live with stigma and pain. We are ridiculed. We are aughed at. We are the mentally ill.

I am, and I am proud to say that the people that I know that are like me are the best and most wonderful people I met.

So then, I would not choose to be well; I would just choose to be well enough.

In the same way, I am thankful for depression, for it helped me rediscover my creativityonce again, andmy writing. I am thankful for depression for it gave mea husband. I am thankful for depression for it opened my eyes to a new world of compassion and empathy. I am thankful for depression because it made me realize I was different, and that I had a lot more to offer than I thought possible.

Reading one of Chris Guillebeau’s older posts, I also understand why I have been so frustrated all along with things around me – exactly because I was not normal and have not been for a long time, just that I have not yet been labelled till now. Nevertheless, I’ve made the decision that I will be remarkable exactly because I’m not normal!

Many remarkable people deal with depression and anxiety all the time because they see the world differently than average people do. Their own failures and perceived failures are magnified. When others say, “Don’t worry about it,” they can’t understand why someone would think something like that. For this reason, a lot of geniuses throughout history have been chronically depressed.

So if I could be normal, I would not! Because I can be remarkable and special!

We all have a specialty in our own way. The world is big enough for all of us special people to co-exist and learn from each other – andin the words of Chris Guillebeau, we should all make the decision to be remarkable!

So, why do you want to be normal?

These are just my thoughts and I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. Also, if you liked this blurb please share with your friends and help my blog grow. Thanks!

54 Responses

  1. The Vizier says:

    Hi Noch Noch,

    From a young age I already realized I was different. The things that my friends were interested in, the way they viewed the world was very much different from mine. At the back of my mind, I was aware of this difference, but it would take me many years before I embraced it fully.

    For a long time, I tried hard to be normal and fit in to be like everyone else. But I never really did. The harder I tried to be normal, the more unhappy I was. I came to realize that all the well-meaning advice I deferred to, from people who were older or more experienced than me, simply did not work for me. I was trying to fit in and live their lives and it simply was not me.

    I think all I want is to be me. Whether other people will view that as remarkable is not important to me. I just want to fulfill whatever role I was born to play and to do it well. Whatever interests I have, I will pursue it with all my heart. Whatever help I can give to others who need it, I will. Maybe such a life is remarkable to some. Maybe it is normal to others. I only know that I want to be me.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Irving

      I think especially in the Asian culture, we are taught conformity and discipline, so that we are all the same and dont’ stand out. Those who stand out become ridiculed. We all want to be “normal” – whatever that means

      I’m only embracing my uniqueness and like you, trying to be, simply me! I think that’s the most beautiful goal we can all attain


      Noch Noch

  2. Annie Andre says:

    Noch Noch,

    i don’t have much to add to this except that i know that once i stopped fighting who i really am inside and stopped trying to fit into the normal conventions of the way people live and think “ALL THE TIME” i became a happier person. IT’s not perfect but i wake up everyday feeling good about my choices in life. where before, i was too empathetic and too worried that i was different than everyone else. Showing other people who we all revere is a great reminder that not being “NORMAL”, being “DIFFERENT” is and can be a great thing. We have only to embrace it and go with it rather than fight it..

    Thanks for the inspiration today. LOVED IT!!

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Annie

      My friend said to be, instead of being “weird”, I’m “limited edition” and that makes my “abnormality” special and valuable. Also, like you, once I stopped fighting myself I started to recover from my illness and am on way to being a happier person, more in tune with what I want and what I want to be. Still some way to go but there are occasional days when I wake up and happy about what I am to embark upon, and I know, that’s the path I need to walk. Normal or not, it’s not important

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here!
      Noch Noch

  3. Hi Noch,
    Clearly, society’s view of what is normal is skewed. I happen to think that you’re among the sanest people I know!

    And who is to say that the “norm” is really the norm anymore? How does the saying go? In the mad world, crazy is the king!

    I like to think that we are all “normal” just the way we are. 🙂

    Thanks! Vlad

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Vlad

      Careful – they might think you are more insane than I am for thinking me sane!! Haha. Joking aside, you made a great point – normal is merely society’s view and that can shift in time. And in many cases, it’s skewed. We are already quite a mad world so I suppose I can be king soon 🙂

      I like what you said, we are all normal the way we are. Thanks for believing in everyone of us
      Noch Noch

  4. Evelyn Lim says:

    What a lovely lovely post! It certainly gives new perspective about not being normal and having to deal with depression. I enjoyed the many examples about those who have not been normal but who have managed to shine their way out of darkness. We are all meant for greatness, if we could only allow ourselves to believe it! Thank you for sharing the email and your thoughts.

    • nochnoch says:

      HI Evelyn

      Thanks for visiting again and sharing your insights. Indeed if we all believe in ourselves we can all be great! First thing is to trust our inner selves!

      Noch Noch

  5. Ani says:

    Very deep post… it made mi shiver!

  6. Marvin says:

    Noch Noch, what a beautiful post and reminder to all of us that every person has a reason they were put on this earth. It is so refreshing to hear how you have embraced your depression as a boon to your success rather than something that holds you back. I have some friends who have mild depression and until I read your post, I didn’t fully understand the monumental challenge they had with changing their outlook on life.

    Thank you for sharing, and thank you for opening my eyes.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Marvin

      Thanks for sharing your experience with your friends. I think there is a bridge we have to cross, for those of us who suffer mood disorders, to see it as an empowering tool instead of holding us back, as you say. Once we cross the bridge, we can learn to embrace and live with it and work our lives around it. I hope your friends also find the way for them to overcome the challenge. I had wanted to give up many times, but somehow we soldier on

      Am glad you found some insight in the post, and thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! Hope you come back again 🙂

      Noch Noch

  7. Russell says:

    Noch Noch,

    I’ve just discovered your blog and it makes for fascinating reading. Looking forward to following your journey.

    I’m so pleased you rediscovered your creativity and depression through writing and other things thanks to the depression. It is a great outlet and I hope you can continue to use it to your benefit.

    I also understand the pressures of the fast-paced career job and can relate to the path you took to keep yourself sane. Keep treading it because I’m sure it will serve you well.


    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Russell

      Nice to meet you and thanks for following my blurbs. I do hope that I find my channels and flourish more in my writing and creativity. I’m still searching but definitely a great form of therapy for me to organize my thoughts

      Hope you continue to share your thoughts here and will be over to visit you soon 🙂

      Noch Noch

  8. Lily Lai says:

    Since a life changing experience a year ago, I have been on a soul searching mission. It has taken me some time to realize that I don’t have to do what others are doing, I don’t have to stay unhappily at a place no matter how bright the future is or will be, I don’t have to own expensive things or have a fat property portfolio to prove my worth and most importantly, I don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations except my own.

    Each and everyone of your blurps have reaffirmed me that I don’t have to join this so-called glamorous rat race. Most people might have trained very hard to last the race, but I know for sure that I would be much happier to be on the sidelines cheering them on, and still be able to go home and enjoy life while the race continues on.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Lily

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to tell us your experience. You describe it so well. We don’t have to do what others are doing indeed. The framework society imposes upon us conditions us to certain ways and behaviours even though it might not be what we want at heart. So I’m glad you have found the way for yourself too and know where you are happiest and feel at ease.

      I hope you are well over the challenging life experience and on your way to attaining greater things, for no one else, but you. THanks again for coming by and hope to hear from you here again

      Noch Noch

  9. What wonderful inspiration and insight for embracing being different and being who we are. Suffering has the potential to spur is on to transformation and to feel love and empathy for others. There can be goodness in our suffering if we know how to look, not to say that is easy or pleasant. You offer deep insights and I’m grateful to you.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Sandra
      Indeed, goodness can come out of challenges, if only we are willing to see them as such. Depression has taught me lots of empathy and compassion, which I had not known before. It is a learning process.

      Thanks for coming – I always enjoy your writing and honoured you took time to come here and visit.
      Noch Noch

  10. Normal is overrated.

    Beautiful post. You’re a great writer.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Josh

      So succinctly and powerfully put! Normal IS overrated. We just need to be ourselves. THanks for stopping by and hope to see you again

      Noch Noch

  11. Marina says:

    A very heartfelt beautiful post. It is great that you are you and nobody else. Take care.

  12. Mark K. says:

    I’m not sure normal exists. It’s a statistical concept, not something you see when you know actual living people. It seems that the main uses for the idea of normality are for people to tell you how you should be, what you should do and should not do–when they have no good reason.

    That there is a fictional creature called a normal person does not convince me in the slightest that I should strive to be like it.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Mark

      Yes normal was carved out to put a label on something. And somehow, “abnormal”, which is merely the opposite of normal, got a negative connotation! What you described is “mediocrity”, and most of us do not have the courage to be anything but average and the same as others. To conform so we would not be criticized. Those who strive to be normal, well as long as they are happy :p

      I’ve not been happy for so long exactly because I was chasing for something that’s not fitted for me. Just wanna be me!

      Noch Noch

  13. Hanan says:

    I think I prefer to just be me, Noch, just like you say it 🙂
    What does a “normal” life really mean anyways? whose life is “normal”? I can’t truly know what goes on in any single person’s private world to brand his life as normal or not. No matter how “normal” or ordinary a person’s life might seem on the outside, I believe that from the moment that soul saw the light, it has embarked on a unique journey catered just for it… and whether he ends up winning the Nobel Prize or not, it makes no difference. If you were to ask Mother Teresa or Einstein what they thought of themselves, I bet you they wouldn’t describe themselves as GRAND people… At most, they would say that they are people who are passionate about what they were doing.

    Also, I prefer not to derive my identity from any state of mind, illness or skill that I might have. I want to learn to not cling to any phase that I am going through for I know that no state lasts forever. I just want to reap the lessons from it and to move on.

    Everyone and everything is doing its job perfectly — no mistake. Byron Katie


    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Hanan

      How are you? 🙂 Always like the quotes you give me, here or via email! always gives me an inspiration 🙂

      True, I had not thought about separating the state of mind with my identity. Especially as you say, no state lasts forever. I sometimes over think my identity and what I’m doing and why. Perhaps it’s better to just go with the flow and be whoever I am right then and there.

      And you make an interesting point. how we see others are drastically different from how they see ourselves. So we need not dwell too much on what others define as “normal” or not 🙂

      Take care
      Noch Noch

  14. Justin Mazza says:

    So true Noch. The greatest minds in the World have also had their share of challenges. “Normal” people are dull, boring and unimaginative.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Justin

      I suppose then why would I want to be boring? In that case I want to be as weird as possible!!!
      And yes my mum told me once, that every great man must build character through adversity – that’s what makes them great!

      Noch Noch

  15. Nigel Chua says:

    Hahahahahaha! I can totally understand and smile from this, because…I am not normal myself! Hahaha – it used to be very tough because I was very hard on myself, because I thought I “must” become/be normal, if not, it’d be weird, and that took a toll on me.

    I became unhappy. Sad. Suicidal. Depressed.

    Until I couldn’t take it anymore and opted to just be myself and me (which is quite similar to your tagline actually), and to be honest with myself, as tactfully honest with others and live with myself.

    Interestingly, people instantly liked me more. Heck, even I liked it more. Quirks, abnormality and all. It’s all part of me.

    I think, abnormality is part of normality. Without it, we’re not normal. =p

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Nigel

      I think people like us quirky dudes because then it makes them feel better for being weird. I think we are doing the world a favour by not being normal and just being weird. Haha
      Plus, I’m definitely happier being weird. You know, I take my bears to cafes and write with them and take photos of them, and people around me smirk. I giggle and think, “I’m me with my bears so there!”

      Noch Noch

  16. Nigel Chua says:

    Yeah man! It really makes a difference I think, once we’ve accepted ourselves, warts, quirks and all, because we get natural, comfortable and real. And I think that ‘being real’ is the real deal, because then we become natural with ourselves and others, and that puts others at ease…

    …maybe cos they’d start letting their barriers down upon seeing our own quirkiness and how we let our hair down! hahahahaha!

    • nochnoch says:

      yeh my shrink said the same thing today. that others feel uncomfortable when we are in touch with ourselves… 🙂
      Noch Noch

  17. Nigel Chua says:

    Yeah! Actually, life can be quite a jumble at times.

    When we’re comfortable with ourselves, some people like us and some people hate us.

    When we’re uncomfortable, some people still like us and some people still hate us.

    Conclusion: let’s just aim to be comfortable and at ease with ourselves, pursuing growth and development and growing from strength to strength, not at the cost of others, but focusing on what matters most.

    • nochnoch says:

      this reminds me of a fable of how some donkey wanted to try to please everybody or something… can’t remember haha
      but the moral of the story was we can’t please everyone and just need to be ourselves 🙂

  18. Nigel Chua says:

    And the interesting thing would be, that when we’re at ease and comfortable being us, we end up helping and making more people happy! =D

    But some will still be unhappy – too bad for those =p

    • nochnoch says:

      i hope i can make more people happy too haha 🙂

      • Nigel Chua says:

        Ah, don’t we always? =)

        Life’s a balance, and sometimes, in the course of making ourselves or others happy, some will be unhappy.

        And it’s not our fault. Sometimes, people get intimidated, threatened and challenge simply because we rise to the occasion, and it highlights their shunning away from their lives, and they don’t like the contrast. Sometimes they “wake up” and get motivated to live better, sometimes, it reinforces their negativity.

        Of course, on the happy and bright side, there’d be those who’d be ultra supportive, loving and positive and for you!

        I know it’s a tad dark, but I think balance is what makes life =)

        • nochnoch says:

          yup and i think everyone has their own balance so we need to find it for ourselves 🙂

          • Nigel Chua says:

            Hey Nochie

            How’s this balance finding so far? Enjoying your quirkiness yet? I’m smiling as I type this, as I re-read the blog comment conversation we had above =)

            I am not normal, I am Nigel.
            You are not normal, you are Nochie (fine fine, Enoch then =p)

            We are who we are, and we are in the process of a journey, not simply to “discover” who we are, but we are constantly remaking, evolving and “uncovering” ourselves in the process of living and experiencing life.

            Let’s do the best we can =)

          • nochnoch says:

            Yup Nigel, I love being quirky and weird hehe :p
            Noch Noch

  19. wohwo…, nice article, thanks a lot for sharing

  20. […] in this career path, and Timmie made sure I stayed alive and every day he is gentle towards my depression. Many times we thought we would break up because it was overbearing on our psyches. Yet, each time […]

  21. […] day I come and go, rumbling through my day instead of focusing on my mind’s fragility. Each day you see me, you think, “Ah, Noch is doing […]

  22. Amy says:

    you said about Jacqueline Du Prez having multiple sclirosos. My mother has that, severely and my brother is her carer and we all live together, since my mum and dad got divorced when i was 7 years old. Can people really die from multiple sclirosis? [I can never spell it right even it it’s there :(]

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Amy, I am not familiar with multiple scelerosis…. I’m sorry to hear about your parents. Sounds like you had a tough upbringing. I had to go through a lot of my childhood issues with my shrink as well to learn more about myself and help with the depression
      Noch Noch

  23. […] if I could choose a normal life, would I? […]

  24. […] if I could choose a normal life, would I???:??A great list of genius / admired people who had mental diseased, were un-understood during their time but whose greatness have been recognized later.??My own personal reference if John Nash, Nobel Prize of Economy, father of the Nash Equilibrum theory (related to the prisoner Dilemna) and played by Russel Crow in "a Wonderful Mind" He was schizophren. […]

  25. Katie says:

    I cried when I read this. It’s so true… And I am thankful for my depression because it has allowed me to see people for who they are. When i’m depressed I become withdrawn. But it has made me a quiet person who watches instead of chatters. And you see so much more like that. Everyone who truly knows me, even says I’m the most caring, compassionate, loving woman they know. Also, Mr. Poe is the number one author ever, in my eyes. And I wish I could have hugged him. Heaven knows, he could have used one.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Katie, yes depression also helped me see the world from another angle and from other empathetic angles. We have special insights that can help us help others! NochNoch

  26. sherill says:

    Hi thanks so much for sharing a beautiful post. There are some people who are so popular today that has gone through depression, some made it through, unfortunately some didn’t, but through this post, we can be aware that everybody is unique, life has it’s own ups and downs, challenges, struggles that we have to face, and at the end of the day, we should always be grateful for who we are. Great Read.

  27. […] day I come and go, rumbling through my day instead of focusing on my mind’s fragility. Each day you see me, you think, “Ah, Noch is doing […]

about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.