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.