Why Can't I Just Be "Normal?"
The desire to be "normal" has become an all-too-common wish, usually forming when an individual encounters an overwhelming, personal struggle they wish to erase. In my profession, I most often see these struggles in the form of anxiety, or depression. Clients so often feel that these mental health struggles make them different from others, that their negative experiences, emotions, and thoughts have placed them in some sort of "abnormal" category - an exclusive, imaginary club where all the troubled, wrong, and outcast individuals reside. Time and time again I hear, "why can't I just be like everyone else? Why can't I just be...normal?"
While I'm not sure where the "normal" vs. "abnormal" divide came from, it certainly seems there are factors that continue to perpetuate its existence.
Let's take a closer look:
It appears that over time, the term "normal" has come to symbolize near perfection - minimal to no troubles, worries, or obstacles - just smooth sailing in all aspects of life. Normal has come to mean gliding through school without a hitch, escaping medical ailments, working productively with little stress, managing a household with ease, and being the social butterfly.
I think a contributing part of the problem is maintained through social comparisons. It's important to keep in mind that when we observe others, we are getting such a small glimpse into their lives. Yet, when we look at others and feel we do not measure up, we may instantly form negative opinions of ourselves. We may hear stories of how others are enjoying their jobs, have a close family, are social with friends, don't need medication, and then quickly think, "they are so... normal!"
What we don't see, however, is often more important than what we do see. People are certainly more willing to share their successes, their achievements, and everything that is going well for them. They are more likely to post these moments on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets, giving off the impression that their lives are great.... that they are "normal." They may not be so upfront about the fight they had with their spouse the night before, how their kid threw a tantrum all night, and how they felt weak at the knees before a presentation at work. They may not share the sadness that overcomes them when they come home at night, the trauma they experienced as a child, or the intrusive thoughts that are with them all. day. long. Is stigma to blame for this?
I frequently have patients express that if anyone were to look at them, they'd have no idea they were struggling, that they were seeking therapy, and having a difficult time coping. They keep their struggles a secrets.
So what does that mean? Well, it shows that struggles are not always visible. It shows that society may not in fact be as "normal" as the skewed definition suggests. Perhaps the definition of "normal" should be closer to: "Someone who experiences challenges in their life journey, and is taking active steps to cope, feel better, and continue onward."
My point is that the term "normal" has been given a definition that in today's society seems....incorrect. As humans, we are emotional beings. Just like we experience moments of happiness and joy, we also experience moments of sadness and anxiety. While some may experience these emotions to greater extremes, and seek assistance to find balance, I fail to understand how anyone could label these individuals as anything but normal. We are not robots, we are not machines, we are not computers. And even if we were, those too require shutdowns and reboots.
Rather than trying to achieve society's "normal," which seems to have developed based on stigma and perhaps faulty observations of others, it's more productive and beneficial to work on achieving our own, personal sense of "normal," comparing ourselves only to ourselves. Are we doing all we can, where we are, with what we have, and how we're feeling?
Think about your own life journey. Think about your own efforts, your own strengths, and your own beliefs. What makes you, you? If you stay focused on yourself, your goals, and your own, personal journey, I can assure you, you are already "normal."
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