A fellow blogger – Stevie Turner – published a post on Monday about the odd phrases that people have entered into search engines as a result of which they have landed on her blog. Her post is called ‘WordPress Search Terms,’ and can be found here – as with all her posts, I recommend it. I’ve often marvelled at some of the weird and wonderful things people search for. In my case, I once wrote a post for Think About Sex Day – yes, it really does exist – which gave me the opportunity to use the word ‘sex’ in the post’s tags, giving rise (or not, ahem) to countless disappointed people since then. I commented on Stevie’s post that my all time favourite was someone who had found my blog by asking ‘why do you pretend to be normal?’ I’ve always hoped that wasn’t aimed specifically at me, but there is always that nagging doubt, isn’t there?
At first I said to Stevie that I hadn’t tried to answer the question, but then I dredged the depths of my memory and realised that I had, in a post from June 2013, entitled ‘Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal.’ The post was written in response to one of the old WordPress daily prompts, back in the days when a) they still did them, and b) they were sensible. As you can see from the conversation I had with Stevie on her post, she expressed an interest in seeing my earlier attempt so, on the basis that I was guaranteed at least one reader, I agreed to share it again. Here it is – I’ll drop back in again at the end for a postword:
“STRANGELY STRANGE BUT ODDLY NORMAL
Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt asks ‘Is being “normal” — whatever that means to you — a good thing, or a bad thing? Neither?’
This is a subject I’ve been struggling to write about for quite a while – since I started blogging last autumn, in fact. I think what has held me back from this is a twofold fear: firstly, that I would look as if I was trying to be an eminent expert, which I’d never claim to be on anything; secondly, it could be pretty dull. But the prompt has persuaded me to do it, so here goes. This is a companion piece to my earlier post today on Men’s Health Week.
How do we define what is normal? What standards/criteria do we judge it against? Do we mean ‘conforming to societal norms?’ If you have a mental illness, like my depression, does that mean you are abnormal? Or if you are physically disabled, does that mean you aren’t normal either? Is ‘normal’ something to want or aspire to anyway?
Seeking inspiration, I tried looking in the dictionary. It said:
1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
2. serving to establish a standard.
- approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.
- free from any mental disorder; sane.
So there you have it. It’s a fair cop but society really is to blame for anyone who isn’t normal! I once asked someone on Twitter, now an ex-friend, to define normal and her off the cuff response was along the lines of ‘being or doing something that matches more than 50% of the population.’ That is, I guess, the societal norm approach. But why should you be considered abnormal if only 49% are like you? Where would – or could – you draw the line in such an assessment?
The reason we are no longer friends is that she decided I am an unpleasant, needy ‘attention whore,’ and that I am psychotic. And she said this in a very public way. Naturally, I strongly disagreed with this assessment but it makes my point for me: two people’s view of the same thing, or of each other, can be so different that the ability to define what is actually ‘normal’ must be subjective. In other words, it is different things to different people. To show how hard it can be to assess normality let’s consider her as an example. I know this is a cheap shot but I’ve waited six months for this so please indulge me briefly! Unless more than half the population has slept with over 200 people of both genders and posts pictures of their genitalia on the web to help them feel good about themselves, then by her own definition she is abnormal. And I’m pretty sure she deserves to be called an ‘attention whore’ far more than I do. But that’s just my assessment, and whilst those are true facts about her – unless she is a liar too – I’d imagine that she’d disagree with me. Not easy, is it?
Looking back at the dictionary definitions, I don’t really have any problem with the first two, which I see as being ‘situational’ definitions. But as you might expect I really cannot agree with the psychological view! Whilst those may be the standards used by clinicians to diagnose their patients, I don’t believe that people with depression or other mental illnesses are helped by being defined as ‘not normal’ in a social context. I function perfectly well in society. So do most others with this and similar illnesses. Of course, medication can be helpful in achieving that, but would anyone consider it wrong to take medication for an ongoing physical condition, such as diabetes? I think not. That ‘not normal’ description, taken out of context, fuels the beliefs and prejudices of people who don’t understand that there are different types of illnesses. It is a factor in creating the stigma that exist: having depression does not mean you are ‘psychotic.’ But it is easy for people to be led into believing otherwise in these days of mass consumption of mass media. Remember The Sun’s ‘Bonkers Bruno’ headline when Frank Bruno was admitted to a clinic suffering from a depressive illness? I rest my case!
As Men’s Health Week is just about to begin it is an appropriate time to ask, not just for men but for all those suffering depression or who are in some way not ‘free from mental disorder’: can we please stop being thought of as abnormal? Why should we or those who have a severe physical illness or disability be regarded as anything other than normal? Basically, that is an insult.
Ignore labels. I am me. You are you. We are us. We are all unique and special, in our own way. One thing you can do better than anyone else is …. be yourself.
Who wants to be ‘normal’ anyway?”
And this is me today. The concept of normality isn’t something I think about every day, but that line about being yourself is the one that best sums it up for me. We each have our own version of what it means to be normal, and it provides us with the reference points by which we live our lives. Why should anyone define normality for us? As I said in the original piece, it is to some – possibly a large – extent a subjective matter. How we perceive ourself must impact on our view of others, mustn’t it? How could we possibly remove that from our reference framework?
A triple of footnotes:
1. Men’s Health Week is coming up again. This year it runs from 10 to 16 June. I’m intending to do a post about it – it’s about time I reintroduced my Dates To Note series.
2. Apologies for the little piece of revenge I exacted in the original piece. It wasn’t very noble of me, I know, but it was all true and I did feel better for it!
3. The title of that original was borrowed from a song: the opening track of Kip Of The Serenes, the 1968 debut album by the Irish hippy folk band Dr Strangely Strange. In case you were wondering 😉