Dear John Green,

Last Christmas Eve, I had a panic attack on the floor of my laundry room. I remember weeping into the palms of my hands, my tears wiping away the makeup that had adorned my face. I remember my back pressed against the washing machine and my sweaty, tear-covered cheeks laying upon the cold tile of the floor as my legs shook uncontrollably. I remember constantly asking myself, “Why are you like this? Why can’t you be normal?” Yet, in the year

that followed, with all its highs and lows, I never found answers to those questions. I never found out why my thoughts would continuously spiral downwards, getting tighter and tighter until I could barely breathe.

Reading your book, Turtles All the Way Down, was a very intimate experience for me. Whenever I had one of my “episodes,” my friends and family would always tell me that I would get better—that I would eventually become “normal.” As if I wasn’t already. Yet, I knew that I never would become “normal,” at least not in their eyes. I knew that I would be like this forever. So, when you penned a story about a girl who had the same struggles as me, I was expecting you, like everyone else, to eventually make her become “normal.” Yet, the end of the novel came and she remained the same. Aza never “recovered.” Her thought spirals continued and they still affected nearly every aspect of her daily life.

After I read your book, I realized that maybe I was normal. That maybe I didn’t have to get “better” to become normal, because I already was. That I had always been normal. And, even if I wasn’t normal by the world’s harsh standards, I was real, and that was enough.

Unlike Aza, my thought spirals are not focused around a Clostridium difficile infection. Rather, my thoughts spirals are focused on everything that involves social interaction. Ordering chicken nuggets at Chick-fil-a. Checking out groceries from Walmart. Waving at one of my neighbors across the street. Everything. And, like Aza, when my thoughts start spiraling ceaselessly, there’s nothing I can do to stop them. I think about what these people will think of me. I think of how these people will describe me to their friends. I think about how these people, who I will never see again, will study me and my every action.

Aza’s thought spirals and my own are so closely related. Like her, I can twist even the most simplest of thoughts into nightmares waiting to become realities. And, because of that, I’ve always felt a haunting brokenness of sorts. I’ve always felt as if there was a cloud of all my failures hovering over me, blocking out the trivial achievements that were the sunlight. Encountering Aza’s own thoughts about herself and reality in your book made me realize that it was okay to have these thoughts. That it was, in some sense, normal to have these thoughts.

Yesterday, I went to our local H-E-B with my Mom. While there, my Mom asked me to run up to the little customer services booth and ask for a book of stamps. And I did it. I communicated with another human being. Of course, it was awkward and I’m sure I quite obviously displayed my discomfort in my face, but I still did it. I remember walking back to my mom, triumphantly holding the stamps in my hand, like a great general waving a flag as he and his comrades marched into battle. And, even though I will probably think back onto the simple interaction between me and this other human being with dread as I fall asleep each night for years to come, I know now that that’s okay.

Because of your book, I have realized that my spiraling thoughts doesn’t make me any less of a person, or not normal. So, thank you, John Green, for writing a book where the main character doesn’t “recover” or become “normal” by the end. Thank you for allowing me to realize that it’s okay to have struggles. And thank you for showing me that I don’t have to become “normal,” because I already am.

“You are as real as anyone, and your doubts make you more real, not less.”

—John Green, Turtles All the Way Down


Thank you for making me feel normal, Evelyn Wilson

Page last modified: April 3, 2019