“Normal”

2010 April 20
by moritherapy

Over at Sonya’s World is an interesting rant on the topic of “Normal“, which had started with a post on the same topic over at PsychCentral.  I started a comment and it got longer and longer so I thought I’d post it here:

Really interesting stuff you say here, and thanks for the rant.

Having seen “normal” and “abnormal” from many perspectives since I was, say, 3 months old, I hope it’s okay if I add a few shades of gray here.

I’d like to say that normal, too, has many shades. The couple you saw walking on the street? Are they normal? Maybe once they get home they’re done being lovey-dovey and he’ll beat her up because of how the coffee he just had interacts with the steroids he’s been using. We don’t know.

Maybe we all have our own “normals”, and maybe they change. It took me a long time to realize, for example, that suicide wasn’t a “normal” way to die, I had seen so much of it when I grew up. Now that I have a different life, I have a new “normal”. That includes, for instance, having only supportive friends. Is that normal? It also includes taking calls from people on Sunday night who are going crazy with anxiety. Is that normal? I don’t know, but it’s fine with me.

Grohol from PsychCentral says “maybe it’s best to think of ‘normal’ as a range of life experiences where we can live the life we want, without significant health or mental health impediments.” Is that perhaps what you’re talking about? You don’t want to spend time at the psych ward, you don’t want to be constantly afraid of your wife killing herself.

Then there’s another “normal”, and that is the statistical normal. It’s one that psychiatrists use a lot (without maybe even thinking about the word “normal”). If you score above a certain point on the hypomania dimension of the MMPI, you’re not “normal” anymore, meaning you score higher than the other gazillion people who’ve been tested on the MMPI. What does that mean? Not much without looking at the rest of your life.

With regard to people who say to those with major mental health issues, “you should do yoga” or “try dandelion wine” – well, in a way, that’s not “normal”, either, in the way that common sense is normal. Because there’s nothing normal (or common sense) about suggesting an umbrella to deal with a tornado or using a garden hose to handle a raging house fire, and those well-meaning (and ignorant) suggestions are pretty much along the same line.

Really, it’s all contextual, I believe. As for the New York times article, I know that there can be (notice the “can”) an important creative aspect to some experiences of mental illness. My father, who spent the majority of his life being bipolar, was an example of that, John is another.  Is that “normal”? I don’t know; in fact, I don’t care, it seems irrelevant. Does it make sense in the context of some individuals’ lives affected by mental illness? that’s the question I find interesting.

The experience is different for everyone, and most importantly, everyone deserves to live a life that feels good and right to them, a life with as much stability and predictability as they need in order to wake up most mornings (yes, mornings, not nights) and say, okay, we can do this.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 April 21

    Thanks a lot for taking the time to write back to me. I think in many ways we’re actually on the same level here. The whole thing is a matter of semantics, mostly focusing on the word “normal.” It sounds like from your experience in your own life and as a professional, you’ve seen some pretty acute situations, and I’ve certainly experienced my own. I guess my beef with the Psych Central argument was that it was cute and catchy but didn’t seem relevant for my wife, and I’m frustrated by not finding stuff that can reach out to her.
    Take, for example, Overeaters Anonymous. My wife has attended that for years, and continued to do so after her hospitalization. But after a few months, it felt so trivial. People talking about food just didn’t seem to matter that much to her. She had a sponsor who tried to work the steps with her, but her sponsor pretty accurately pointed out that stepwork isn’t what is needed right now…survival is. Like you say, you can’t fight a tornado with an umbrella. However, to go back to my previous point, tornadoes are the exception, and not the rule. Rain is the rule. And so for most people, most of the time, umbrellas are sufficient. And if my house got plowed over by a tornado, I’d love some good old fashioned rain.
    .-= Sonyas World´s last blog ..normal. =-.

  2. 2010 July 4
    Lifelonglori permalink

    The word normal gets used in so many places that we often find our perspectives rather skewed on its true meaning! As crazy as I am because of my mental illness, I have never wanted to be normal. I have wanted to fit it, be accepted, and supported for who I am. I am one of those people who like the fact that I broke the mold! To me, normal is best used as a setting on a dryer. I would much rather have a healthy life! By thinking this way, I find that life is much more interesting, and productive. Being me is much better than being the person others want me to be, which is “normal.”

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