I was recently challenged to not use the word ‘normal’ when comparing against those who suffer from mental health issues and it brought about an inner turmoil in me.
What is normal? Truthfully, I don’t really know. I don’t think anyone is normal and it’s their flaws that make them beautiful.
But we could also give the same definition for perfect. There is no perfect.
Like my mom, for example. She’s perfect to me.
I also recognize that what you think is beautiful might differ from what I think is beautiful and that’s okay.
When I say someone is perfect, and I say it rarely, I say, “You are perfect to me.”
That has a lot of power. The perfect person would know that I genuinely mean it because I’m not lumping an opinion of the world in there, just my own.
But what about normal?
Anyone who suffers from mental health will never feel normal. We constantly battle with the things we do/think and the things we want do/think.
We know it should be easier than it is, and so that makes us ‘not normal’.
A person who doesn’t have mental health issues can do things naturally without even thinking about it, where I have to work myself up to that.
Normality Around Decisions
I’ll use an example here. Over the Christmas holidays I was invited to an annual cookie exchange.
At this particular cookie exchange, I needed to bake two dozen cookies and show up at a friend’s house.
Well I only agreed to go an hour before and certainly didn’t have time to bake.
I figured I wouldn’t be judged too harshly if I went to the grocery store and bought store-bought baked cookies (they were farmer’s market shortbread), as long as I came.
Until that night, I’d never been to this friend’s house. I know her from my kids’ school and we’d been socializing for about 2-3 years, but we’d never hung out before.
I also knew that I would know other moms at the party. I just needed to get myself there.
I struggled. A lot.
So I brought my daughter and that helped. I’m better with my children because my first instinct is to protect them.
Together, we made it to the house, but it was still a struggle for both of us to enter.
This is where I’d say, “a normal person wouldn’t have struggled. They would have just walked into their friend’s house.”
Park that for a minute while I explain my daughter.
My daughter is shy at first, especially with strangers. She knew the house we were going to; it belonged to a boy in her class.
No matter what, she knew there would be one person she knew because he lived there.
When I told her we were going, she was super excited. When we got to the door, she froze. Just like me.
I said the words to her that I’d been saying to myself for the last hour. “You have friends in there. You can do this.”
She held onto my leg and stepped slightly behind me. That was exactly how I felt. I wanted to hide too.
But we were literally in front of the door; we’d even walked up the driveway at this point. There was no turning back.
I took her hand and said, “Baby girl, we got this. I’m scared too, but we can do this. Let’s do it together.”
In we walked. I opened the door, and she went first. Within one second she sees three friends she knows and off she went, running and playing forgetting about the struggle we just had.
One second, that’s all it took for her.
It took me the better part of an hour to calm myself down.
This is the difference between normal and not normal.
Defining Norms Around Mental Health
A normal person doesn’t dwell on things the way a person with mental health does. They move on. They get over it. It’s not even a memory for them.
That time they might have spent nervous in front of the door, poof, gone.
When I say the word ‘normal’, I’m simply comparing it against someone with mental health issues.
It really is just a set of norms around the issue being discussed. For example, a professional athlete is excellent at a sport. A normal person is not.
In this example, I’m considered normal. Normal is synonymous with ‘average’ here, and in general, it is.
It’s not offensive, or it’s not meant to be when used synonymously with the word ‘average’.
I’m not normal and that’s okay. I’m learning to cope with anxiety and depression.
When I use the word normal, I’m referring to a person who doesn’t suffer from mental illness.
Here’s where I’d like to point out that just because you don’t suffer from mental illness, doesn’t necessarily make you ‘normal’ either.
You could be different for all sorts of reasons, and that’s really okay.
The stigma on mental illness comes from a few things, one being that it’s still not recognized as an issue, another is that we’re told we’re not normal like it’s a disgrace to society.
In this case, it is offensive to say we’re not normal. Why? Because ‘normal’ is considered human.
I’m human. There is no doubt in that.
To remove the stigma from mental illness, we need to remove this opinion. Just because I have mental illness, does not make me any less of a person.
When I say I’m not normal, it’s not because I think I’m bad and ‘normal’ is good. I say it because I know that I don’t function in a ‘normal’ way.
It’s simply a set of ‘norms’ that the average person can relate to.
However, if I avoid using the word ‘normal’ to describe the ‘non mental health sufferers’, I’m doing us a disservice.
I’m basically saying we’re all the same, and we’re really not. I’m down-playing an issue that should be talked about openly. I’m covering it up.
I’m pretending it doesn’t exist.
Sure, I could say ‘non-mental health sufferers’ instead of ‘normal’, but what about those people who don’t think mental health is a real issue?
They won’t be able to relate to either party, simply because I danced around the fact that mental health is not normal.
I will try to be tactful when using the word ‘normal’ and attempt to make my point very clear.
Remove the stigma. Just because I am not normal, doesn’t mean that I am not human.
My problems are very real. Amongst my mental health sufferers, we’re the norm.