Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal

Daily Prompt: The 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.

PretendingHow 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:

NORMAL, adjective

1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.

2. serving to establish a standard.

3. Psychology:

  • 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?

Medication can be good for you!

Medication can be good for you!

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.

Be yourselfIgnore labels. I am me. You are you. We are us. We are all unique and special, in our own way. Who wants to be ‘normal’ anyway?

Men’s Health Week

The latest in my series of Dates to Note starts tomorrow – Men’s Health Week runs from 10th to 16th June.

Maybe some things are too difficult to admit after all!

Maybe some things are too difficult to admit after all!

This would have been a no-brainer for me to include, even without the theme chosen for this year. Roughly half of us are men, I think, and quite a few of the rest have links with men, don’t you? So it could be said that issues around male health affect virtually all of us. This year’s theme is ‘The way we feel’: the event is led by the Men’s Health Forum and aims to tackle stigma in men’s mental health and promote mental well-being and help-seeking in men. As they say on their website, 75% of suicides are by men, 73% of people who go missing are men, yet we are notoriously bad at admitting to ourselves and our loved ones that we may be ill and might need some help, whether that be physically or mentally. I know from my own experience how damaging that can be: perhaps if I’d been more aware of my own depression much earlier I could have got help a lot sooner, and may not have been off work for so long. Who knows, but I use my own example as encouragement to you all to come clean with yourselves!

So please, do visit the Men’s Health Forum site and take a little time to read what they have to say – you won’t be wasting your time, as they cover a wide range of male health matters and you never know when you may need some independent advice.

As usual, if you’d like to know more about mental health issues the NHS website is an invaluable source.

Take care of yourselves and those around you.