By Dan Briggs
I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to stop using the word ‘normal’, because what does it actually mean? What is normal? And who decides it? Because I have depression, am I somehow abnormal?
For too many years my depression defined me. I was made to feel abnormal. ‘It’s not normal to act like that!’ ‘What do you mean you can’t get out of bed? That’s not normal’. I hid away from it and refused to admit or even accept that I had depression.
What do people mean by normal?
18 months ago mine and my wife’s son Louis was born sleeping, now as you can imagine this was a very emotional and difficult thing to deal with, and naturally so, however, there seemed to be a general feeling that after about two weeks we just needed to get back to normal. Now I have no idea what people meant by ‘normal’, and in all honesty I don’t think they did either. I don’t think there was any maliciousness in people’s comments, it’s just how we are programmed: ‘That’s happened, now just move on’. They probably meant back to how things were. And that was never going to happen, our lives were changed. Normal now became life without Louis; however people didn’t want us to change, they wanted us to stay as we were. I think, or I hope, that’s what they meant by normal.
So where I was/had been, no longer existed, how could it? Feeling excited about anything became difficult. I didn’t think anything would work out for me or us. If I prepared myself for the worst possible outcome I couldn’t be let down, after everything that my wife and I had been trying for, for 8 years, was cruelly ripped away from us.
I have only used the above example to try and show how people use the word ‘normal’, how they try to define what is normal, and how it can make others feel.
What is normal?
After any kind of emotional episode, whether connected to having a mental illness or not, then what people perceive as your normal (how things were) changes forever. It may be a slight change or a huge shift but there will be a change nonetheless. Your life, personality or brain will have changed. The way you view or feel about certain situations will be different.
How many times as a sufferer of mental illness do we hear, “You just need to get back to normal”? Now if I’ve heard this once a month while I’ve suffered with depression it would be somewhere in the region of 240 times!
The new normal
So back to the question. What is normal? Well if we accept that by ‘normal’, people mean how things were, then we can analyse the question a little bit more. If we say the point you were at is ‘A’ and the situation, whatever it is, takes place then you end up at a different point, let’s call that ‘B’. Now unless you can travel back in time the situation will always have occurred, so point ‘B’ is now how things are, so in the world of normal, that is the new normal.
To grow emotionally it is important that we accept that change is inevitable, both through positive and negative events. If we can accept this, then we can help lift the stigma attached to mental illness.
‘Normal’ is a word that the dictionary defines as conforming, usual, regular, average or mean. Now as a sufferer of mental health, am I not conforming? Am I unusual? Irregular? Or somehow below or above average? (People don’t think you’re above average if you suffer with mental health, I’m being facetious.)
We need to stop telling people what is normal
I now believe that “normal” cannot describe an emotional or existent state. If we are ever going to remove the stigma attached to mental health we need to support people, and telling them they aren’t normal, or that they just need to get back to normal is not supportive, it is in fact the exact opposite.
So next time you go to tell someone what is and isn’t normal, stop and think for a second. And try and use a different word.
Peace, love & laughter Dan x
Reproduced with permission, originally published here