Lost and Finding Normal

Dreaming of Standing Out, Fitting In and Everything In-between

When I was little, all I wanted in the world was to be different than who I was… to be special, special like my sister Jamie. In my eyes she was almost god-like, the epitome of everything I wanted to be but wasn’t. Everything I did, I did because Jamie had done it first. Jamie did well in school so I tried as hard as I could to do well just like her. Jamie belonged to a dance company; I spent hours practicing so that when I was old enough to audition I could make it into the company just like Jamie had. I was on a perpetual search to find more of her inside of me.

Magical Child, painted by Jamie Hulley

Looking back, I realize now how ironic this was –since Jamie wanted nothing from anyone except for them to be exactly who they were. Because you better believe Jamie was going to be herself — no matter what anyone thought. She marched to the beat of her own drummer. She saw pictures in the clouds, danced rather than walked, performed for any audience, sang to anyone who would listen, and always colored outside the lines.

Self Portrait, painted by Jamie Hulley

Jamie was beautiful, she was just one of those golden girls; the sun just seemed to follow her around. And I watched from the sidelines as she brought her dreams to life with the swift swish of a paint brush or deliberate stroke of a pen. And that’s how it was for me all throughout my childhood — Jamie in the spotlight and me trapped in the larger-than-life shadow she cast on the ground… wishing I was something different.

Different finally did come. I had just turned fifteen, and it was two weeks before Jamie’s twenty-first birthday. It was the day Jamie died. I never would have imagined that the sound your life makes as it falls apart is complete silence. But the silence was deafening. My life was forever changed, I was left alone — finally in the spotlight — but not in the way I ever would have wanted.

My life was a shattered picture of its former self, but my longing to be different did not dissipate — instead, it morphed and twisted into a desperate desire to be “normal.”

I had gone from “the girl with the amazing sister” (but too bad I wasn’t more like her) to “the girl whose amazing sister died.” My community rallied around my family and me, constantly offering their love and support. But I could not stand it. The sympathy people showered me with only suffocated me. I did not want the constant reminders, every time someone looked at me with pity in their eyes or asked if I was okay — all it did was remind me of how much it hurt to lose her. I was a freshman in high school when Jamie died and all I wanted was to find friends and fit in, but all I did was stand out, and for all the reasons I wanted to forget. I would have given anything to be back in the shadows. I just wanted to be different, to be normal.

Alone in a Crowd, painted by Jamie Hulley

My mom used to say to me that our family needed to find our “new normal” after Jamie died. I used to hate that saying — I didn’t understand how normal would ever be possible again. I didn’t know how to exist in a world that my sister didn’t. I had lost my life’s compass; Jamie had been my true north. I had nothing left to follow, so I looked to everyone else.

I looked at the beautiful, popular girls at my high school and they seemed so genuinely happy with their football boyfriends and parties on the weekend… so I did that too, and tried to be just as happy.

When I was at Boston College I remember looking around me at all these intelligent, driven people and thinking none of them could possibly have anything bad going on in their lives. They all seemed so put together and I was falling apart.

When I started my first job in public relations after college, I remember spending hours in the office staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor. No words came to mind except that I wasn’t good enough and my colleagues were so much better than me. I wished I could be different, could be more like them.

It’s been 14 years since Jamie left me, and I spent 10 of those years — 24 years of my entire life — pretending and wishing to be something different than myself. From trying to mold myself into a miniature version of my sister, to pretending I wasn’t grieving her death at all, to partying too hard, to working too hard — I played all the parts well. From trying so desperately to be special to then praying for nothing but normalcy — I was lost, walking crippled through life.

I remember one day looking in the mirror and realizing that I didn’t even know what I looked like anymore, or how far I had deteriorated. I had spent so much time and energy trying to be different than myself that I didn’t even know what myself meant. And finally, perhaps for the first time, I truly wanted to know who I was, rather than be someone else.

Angel, painted by Jamie Hulley

It took me years, probably far too long, but when I finally allowed myself to have my own thoughts and feelings and dreams — that is when I finally started to find my “new normal.” The best part was when I stopped worrying about being different or better, I actually started being better at my job. When I stopped looking around me for all the answers I realized that I had great ideas and answers of my own. And today, I’m lucky enough to work at a company like InkHouse, where creativity and big ideas are welcomed, encouraged and serve as the lifeblood of the organization. Today, I don’t wish that I’m different, I’m proud of who I am. I don’t have to pretend that I’m happy, I really am.

My story is not one of overcoming grief, but a story of finding yourself — of accepting who you are and recognizing that personality begins where comparison leaves off. I think that it’s only human nature to compare yourself to others, or wish you’re something different than you are. But what I’ve realized is that you can tell yourself that you would be willing to lose everything in order to get something you want, but all those things you’re willing to lose are what make you recognizable. Lose them, and you’ve lost yourself.

For Altagracia, painted by Jamie Hulley

I think we’ve all lost our way for a time or two; and we find ourselves walking through life blindfolded and we try to deny that we’re the ones who securely tied the knot. But my blindfold is finally off. It’s taken me years but I finally found my own, new normal — and I’ve let that be okay, I’ve let that be enough.

My normal is being pretty opinionated, and probably talking a bit too loud — and that’s okay.

My normal is staying in on a Friday and probably eating too much cheese — and that’s okay.

My normal is constantly reminding myself not to let perfect be the enemy of good — and that’s okay.

And more than anything else, my normal is missing my sister — and that’s okay. That loss has made me the person I am today.

We all have our own fears, strengths, weaknesses and dreams — we all have our own versions of normal … and that makes us all the same but that also makes us all truly and beautifully different.

To celebrate Jamie’s vivacious spirit and the beauty that she brought to the world, her family and friends established the Jamie A. Hulley Arts Foundation. The non-profit organization is dedicated to the support of young artists who share in Jamie’s creative passion and her love of taking artistic risks.