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.