Am I ‘normal’?
I’ve just finished having a conversation with a friend about “normal”…
Normal was a word that we were steered clear of in our psych & social sciences subjects when I was studying. It was not socially appropriate to refer to someone as normal because it then makes the presumption that there are also people who are abnormal. I get their point. It’s not nice to refer to other people as abnormal. Things, test results, conditions, environmental factors can all be normal or abnormal, but they don’t have feelings.
To call someone normal is to pass judgement on them; to make comparisons; again, something that society prefers to steer clear of these days. However, I’m going to happily rock the boat here and talk about myself in terms of normal-abnormal…. Because I think I probably feel and think the way many people with connective tissue disorders do. And you know, I’m all for normalising things (pun very much intended!)…
Honestly, I feel like throughout my life I have been flipping between feeling normal and abnormal. Not so much on a daily basis, but for longer stretches of time.
I know I have an amazing ability to convince myself of my normality when threatened with the feeling of being abnormal; when things look like I’m going to be shown up as ‘different’. There is nothing like the threat of being different to make me find all the normality hidden within me.
What do I mean by normal?
I mean how/what the majority of people think/feel/believe/do etc. etc.
I love to blend into the crowd. There is nothing more abhorrent to me than being singled out, having attention drawn to me, for being different. You can single me out for other things, things I perceive to be positive, perhaps. If I were an amazing singer, sportsperson, or a brain surgeon, I wouldn’t mind having the attention drawn to me. Well, possibly. Single me out because of my physical or intellectual abilities? Hell no!
I spent so much time as a child and adolescent believing that I was abnormal, that, with the help of some bullying, I then went to the opposite extreme in a desperate attempt to convince myself (and others) that I am normal; that I was not broken. I would surge towards every possible ounce of ‘normal’ I could see in an attempt to convince myself that I was more “like them” than not.
However, I think the fact that I know that there are some obvious differences makes me super-sensitised to being singled out. I’ve been like that since I was little. I never liked the spotlight, couldn’t handle it when my family laughed at something funny I said and I would sure-as-hell never volunteer to do anything with any audience.
I think this ‘knowing’; this obvious (to me) fact that my physical abilities are different to other people’s makes me acutely aware and hyper-vigilant in situations where a spectacle may be made of me.
Part of this comes back to being bullied in high school. (Yes. I was bullied. I remember some of my patients being shocked to hear me say that when I told them in sessions, but yes, I was the target of bullies in an all-girls Catholic high school). High school was one of the most horrible times of my life, and I’ll be forever glad that it was only six years of what I hope will be a long life. I got far too much negative attention in both primary and high school for being different.
Whether that was because I was physically different – my knees were taped, or my neck was in a brace, or I was on crutches or recovering from surgery. Or emotionally different – I was definitely not as emotionally robust as my peers, with high anxiety, a propensity to cry at the drop of a hat and pathological shyness. Unfortunately, I was an extremely easy target. When you’re bullied for just being you, you start to try and be someone else. I wanted to go from abnormal to normal, and preferably by yesterday!
As a consequence, I feel like I have spent a lot of my life trying to make up for the fact that I am different. I did this by trying to do normal things, trying to fit in; pushing myself to be the same as the other kids (and adults). In lots of ways, that was probably beneficial – more so to my psyche – because it kept me pushing myself; it kept me trying. It kept me open to new experiences and kept me social. It probably wasn’t the best for my body. I pushed it a little far sometimes.
In reality, what I needed to do was accept that I was, in fact, different and that this is OK.
Being different is OK. In reality, we are all different. None of us is the same. And I probably needed to accept that as much as we would like to blend in the with the crowd, it’s not always possible. However, as a kid, I don’t think it would have been possible for me to accept it; not with my temperament and the self-confidence of…well of nothing.
So, I’m still struggling with this. I struggle to accept the fact that I am different. I struggle to accept that my condition has put limitations on me. I struggle; wrestle even, with trying to decide whether I’m “normal” or “different”. I don’t want to be different.
But I am.
So right now, I am back where I started… believing that I am more abnormal than I am normal (but acknowledging that some aspects of me are normal). However this time, I don’t tell myself I’m ‘abnormal’ as a “put-down”; there is not so much negative self-talk on this front. This time, I believe that I am abnormal because in so many areas of my life, I’m just not “typical”… and that’s not a bad thing.
Being typical wouldn’t have given me the opportunities that being atypical have. ‘Typical’ would have meant working 9-5, five days a week. I wouldn’t have been able to see my nieces grown up, right before my very eyes. I wouldn’t have been able to see friends on weekdays and have newborn baby cuddles galore. I wouldn’t have had the incentive to start my own businesses or to travel to the USA three times to attend and speak at conferences. I wouldn’t mind betting that I probably wouldn’t have had the incentive to go to Africa twice and volunteer in orphanages either.
I’m sure there are benefits to believing you’re different, but one definite downside is that it can make you see the world through a “different filter”. A filter of “that doesn’t apply to me because I’m different”. And we end up thinking
“I can’t do that because I’m different”
“that’s not the same for me because I’m different”
“I won’t even try because I won’t be good at it because I’m different”
It clouds & overpowers everything else. It’s not great for the headspace, even if it’s true!
Regardless of whether I see myself as normal or abnormal, I am still me. I still choose to focus on the similarities rather than differences between us. I still prefer to find common ground between me and the next person. And I do still try to push myself; to stretch myself (more intellectually than physically these days). Not to prove anything to anyone, but myself.
And I still use the words normal and abnormal….
How do you choose to see yourself? Let us know below!