What is normal?


Black Sheep

I think society is too concerned with being “normal”.  This is my opinion and you may not agree with it.  I will tell you what led me to think this.

Presently my health has been spiralling in and out of fatigue in an uncontrolled and erratic way.  I am not sure what to blame, whether it is being busy, being stressed, not getting enough sleep, erratic weather, or perhaps it is just bound to happen periodically no matter what I try.  I am feeling very abnormal at the moment, like I cannot keep up with my peers and live my life like others.  For example, tonight I drove home from work and parked in the carport only to have zero energy left to actually get out of the car, unlock the door and go inside.  When I finally went inside every second focused on me getting into bed for a nap. I don’t think my peers are sleeping at 6.30 pm because they almost crashed asleep in their carport.

It happened that before I came home tonight I was sitting in the car briefly listening to the radio. There was a lady on the radio (possibly an expert, but I didn’t hear her name), talking about depression and offering advice as to how to help a friend regain a normal life after being depressed.  I kind of got angry inside when I heard this lady use the word “normal”.  I thought, “what is normal lady, maybe this is normal for this person?” I think this was a regrettable choice of word. To tell a person that they must aim to “get back to normal” is to dismiss the struggle, to ignore the effort on the days where depression was experienced and survived, to categorise and ostracise the individual that this person is. Trying to gain “normality” may equate to setting this person up for failure. Trying to gain a more positive outlook might be more appropriate.  Or trying to regain constant work life, that might be what the person needs. Being told he or she is living an abnormal life, that is not needed.  What happens next time the illness becomes bad again? Does this person feel like he or she failed because they have to admit they are unwell again? Is the illness hidden on subsequent episodes? Does this person begin to hate who they have become?

What is normal? The dictionary says normal is ‘conforming to a standard’, or ‘the usual, typical, or expected state or condition’ (Google).

If I wish I was “normal’ I’m not sure what I am wishing for.  It would be much clearer for me to say I wish I didn’t have a chronic illness. Everyone leads different lives with different issues, challenges and problems.  The variety of personalities, experiences and lifestyles of people means that normal is a fallacy.  For some people, having a chronic illness has become their normal, their life.  Because if you start to think you are abnormal then it is like the illness is taking control and the true person is lost.  It does not matter if you are in a situation where you could be classed as “abnormal”, you continue to be a valued individual- you continue to be you.

Unfortunately, having a chronic illness is normal life for many, many people.  I read a paper that said 26.1% of people in my age bracket, 25-44 years old, reported having at least one chronic illness in Australia in 2004-2005.  Ten years on, I am sure this is even greater today, as reporting is more common and diagnosis and treatment for illness more accessible nowadays. This survey also found that 53.1% of 45-64 year olds and 79.6% of those 65 and over reported having one or more chronic illnesses.  As the two older age groups had over 50% with chronic illnesses, does then mean that chronic illness is in fact normal for over 45s? Hahaha. That isn’t true is it? But statistics show that chronic illness is the expected state of older citizens.  Perhaps I am just a few years ahead of time?

The concept of normality has a judgemental element to it.  It is like organising individuals into “OK” and “not OK” categories. Everyone stands around pointing fingers at each other saying you aren’t normal, when in fact, variety, as seen in everyone as a society, is normal. Is it normal to not be normal? That would make a lot more sense.  Coming with the judgemental concept of normality is stigma.  The stigma towards being abnormal is what is to blame for self image and self esteem problems, mental health issues, hiding the truth, staying in the closet, etc.

If we instead considered that what is normal for one person is not the same as what is normal for another person, much of the stigma disappears. Perhaps, the idea of normal is also fluid throughout one’s life.  This type of normal does not fit the Google definition given earlier.  I am sure sociology academics would find all sorts of explanations for the concept of normal and how it assists society with self-regulation.  However, it seems that the actual definition of the word normal does not work in reality. Enacting the idea of normal is impossible and likely to lead to feelings of inferiority and rejection.  The hiding and disgrace that occurs when a person thinks them self abnormal does not need to happen in a world where all types of normal exist. In this type of world, there is no abnormal.  There is unusual and unlikely and not common, but no abnormal.

I have a chronic illness, struggle with that illness on and off, but I also want to be considered as normal. I am a normal person who has an uncommon illness. My illness does not make me abnormal.  It means I have a chronic illness.


About lisasretro

I'm a 41 year old teacher, single and have one adult son. I'm currently finding a new me and new style of living while learning to manage chronic illness. In short, my mind is over active and my body can't keep up. I love art, retro and vintage stuff, eclectic fashion and travelling anywhere and everywhere. I often also get all caught up in social justice issues, my fave being marriage equality, until it happens here in Aus. Bucket list enabled, hold on tight.

3 responses »

  1. I don’t know what “normal” is … but every once in a great while, I meet someone I instantly recognize as “not normal” and it isn’t because they look funny or act eccentric. It’s always something I can’t even put a finger on, but it’s out of whack.

    But in my opinion, the rest of us are normal because normal is such a very broad thing. Great post. Living with chronic issues requires a sense of humor and you obviously have one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We put all these words on things and then don’t know what they mean. I agree with you about intuitively sensing things about people. We can feel lots of things if we watch and listen.
      Thanks for reading.


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