IMHO: Who Decides What Normal is?

  • Every so often, I'm going to post a blog entry called "IMHO," computer shorthand for In My Humble Opinion, and talk about a hot topic in the community. Recent events compel me to debate the idea of normalcy.


    An apt quote makes perfectly clear that mass hysteria can have dangerous consequences for those who deviate from the "norm." In The Crucible, Arthur Miller's play about the Salem Witch Trials, a character speaks out: "We are all as we were before, only naked."


    Those of us with psychiatric diagnoses are indeed vulnerable to the ignorance and fear that breed stigma. To tell our stories—and be accepted—is something we all cherish dearly. We need to jump at every opening to set others straight.

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    As you may know, two weeks ago Oprah Winfrey featured on her show a woman who underwent an operation to become a man, and is now married to a woman. He gave birth to their first child. While there was a huge public outcry that Oprah did the wrong thing by speaking with this husband and wife, a significant number of people applauded her for promoting tolerance. Hey, either way, it didn't hurt her ratings. The bottom line is: she gave a voice to two human beings who made their own choice.


    Who gets to decide what's normal and what isn't?


    It's sad that some people feel secure only in relation to how well they're doing compared to others who are different from them. How could these people judge someone else for not being "normal." Those are the same people who would be quick to cry discrimination if it happened to them. Somehow they feel justified in judging others.


    Now, good, kind, open-minded people of all stripes exist everywhere. Amen to that. I salute anyone who chooses tolerance over narrow-mindedness. Yes, it is a choice, one you make and stand by. As someone with schizophrenia, I strive to tell my story as a way to "open minds, and open doors."


    Just last week, I was reminded that stigma still exists and I was in a delicate place, so didn't challenge the person. At a meeting I attended to brainstorm program ideas, one woman recounted the great success she had with customers from a nearby Clubhouse volunteering their time to assist her with projects. The woman seated in the row in back of me told her friend, "I don't think we should have crazy people doing that."


    Though this example is discouraging, we can win the war by refusing to accept the stigma. We have the choice: to let others affect what we think about ourselves, or to seek out peers—with or without schizophrenia—who treat us as equals.


    When I first began speaking out, I knew I would often have to stand alone in fighting for what I believed in. I take up the cause of equal rights for people with mental illnesses because it is the right thing to do. I decided not to spend the rest of my life in hiding, because the price of silence was too high to pay.


    Years ago a co-worker told me, "There is no normal." She wasn't kidding. Working in a public library, I deal with members of the public every day. My job is my life. So I can tell you with certainty that I haven't seen it all, but I've come close. Watching people as they tick and tock in the world is like an unofficial job description.


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    In so much of what I do, I live my life "left of the dial," and as a result, I couldn't judge anybody else who has quirks or doesn't mesh or live up to society's expectations. I wouldn't want to see mirror images of me walking down the street. I take no comfort in being popular or part of a crowd. It suits me just fine that I'm unconventional.


    Too often, "normalcy" is coveted like a holy grail, even down to the cars we drive and the clothes we buy. We want to fit in, and we let others into our circle only if they fit in. It gives the illusion of being accepted. Yet in the end, self-acceptance is all that matters. Having insecurities is what makes us human. The degree to which we are comfortable with ourselves determines whether we can accept others as they are instead of being threatened.


    Some people "neg" on others as a way to exert power. Aren't there other ways to take control than by cutting someone down? We deserve respect, empathy, kindness and compassion. Everyone who lives on earth deserves this. It's the Golden Rule, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.


    Now, if you'll excuse me, I really need to get ready to see my psychiatrist in the City. I'll be "that woman" on the train, listening to her iPod AND reading a magazine, all at once, to drown out her thoughts. Let the other passengers look at me funny. I'll be miles away, marching to a different drummer.


Published On: April 08, 2008