Mental Health

What is Normal, and Should We Strive for It?

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The news of Osama bin Laden’s death makes me wonder: Are we all hoping now that things will go back to normal, to the way life was before 9-11?  I can’t help but think of wars of the past, and how there was always a craving to “go back to normal.”

Mood music:


One of the better examples of our craving for normal was in 1920. It was right after World War 1 and presidential candidate Warren G. Harding promised a return to “normalcy.” Normalcy wasn’t even a proper word, but Americans liked the sound of it. Harding was elected and went on to make history as one of the 20th century’s most useless presidents.

A lot of history has happened since them, of course. We’ve seen many more wars and economic upheavals. We all have our ideas of what normal is in the public realm. Normal doesn’t always lead to good things. Just look at the “normalcy” of the 1920s, which ended in the start of the Great Depression.

In our personal lives, it’s also true that grasping for “normal” hasn’t always led to good things. We have our ideas of what a normal life looks like: Working a 9-to-5 job, ball games on weekends, falling asleep in front of the TV at night.

Then we have our ideas of what normal looks like in individuals. The conventional kind of individual normal is usually described as someone who doesn’t look or talk funny, dresses in a way that doesn’t scream for attention and blends in. Normal people follow the latest fashions. A so-called normal person eats regular portions at mealtime and can make do with just a couple sips of wine. A normal person gets along with his or her family and listens to everything parents advise them to do.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition of normal:

“In behaviornormal refers to a lack of significant deviation from the average. The phrase “not normal” is often applied in a negative sense (asserting that someone or some situation is improper, sick, etc.) Abnormality varies greatly in how pleasant or unpleasant this is for other people. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “normal” as “conforming to a standard”. Another possible definition is that “a normal” is someone who conforms to the predominant behavior in asociety. This can be for any number of reasons such as simple imitative behavior, deliberate or inconsistent acceptance of society’s standardsfear of humiliation or rejection, etc.”

Of course, life doesn’t work that way. And thank God for that.

I’ve been thinking about our warped notion of normal a lot lately. The bin Laden story has just intensified those thoughts. I’ve also been thinking about it because of Nikki Sixx’s new book and accompanying Sixx A.M. album, “This is Gonna Hurt.” The project illuminates the beauty of people who don’t look like the conventional picture of normal. Some of Sixx’s photo subjects are missing limbs or suffer from serious deformity. But for these people, that is normal.

For me, a dysfunctional family, addictive behavior and mental disorder have all been normal. My normal. Binge eating isn’t considered a normal addiction, but in my world it is. It leads to the same normal self destruction that heroin and cocaine leads to. It’s just not as expensive and it’s legal.

My mother always tossed the word around when talking disapprovingly about something me, Erin or the kids did. “That’s not normal,” she would whine.

In her world, “not normal” is anything that fails to conform to her wishes.

Normal really is a bullshit word when you get down to it.

Most of us are different. And that’s how it should be. If God had created us all to conform to the average way, He would have been pretty bored.

I have a big nose and big ears. My waistline is up around the ribcage. People say I dress like a priest because I wear the cross around my neck where everyone can see it and wear a lot of black. Given the heavy metal I listen to all day and my studded boots, you could say I resemble something closer to a sinister minister.

Disclosure: I didn’t come up with “sinister minister.” It was actually the name of a local band from the 1980s. I wonder whatever happened to them? They sure as hell weren’t normal, but that made them a lot more fun to hang around with at parties.

Anyway, I just wanted to suggest that there is no such thing as normal or abnormal.

We’re all meant to be different as individuals. Our families are all meant to be different. Current events have never fit the description of average. Never for long periods, anyway.

Instead of scowling at the lack of “normalcy,” you should embrace it.