16 March 2015

Normal life

'The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well.' 

I love this quote from Joe Ancis *, and the idea underlying it, ie that nobody is 'normal', is a theme in my novel.

Those of us with diagnosed mental health conditions are frequently viewed as 'abnormal' and have to endure the stigma that goes along with the medical labels we've acquired. Yet how many people behave in ways that are every bit as strange as, say, an OCD sufferer's compulsions, without being subject to the same prejudice or ridicule?

Everything we experience in life can potentially affect how we act in future, and sometimes those experiences contribute to the development of a recognised mental health condition. Often, though, they damage people in a less clearly defined way.

Let's say, for example, that you find out your partner has been cheating on you and you never get over that breach of trust. As a result, you develop a fear of commitment and sabotage every prospective new relationship.

Or perhaps your parents were so frivolous with money that they couldn't meet their mortgage repayments and lost their home. You respond by hoarding money, depriving yourself of life's pleasures and driving others away with your meanness.

We don't view trust issues or being tight-fisted as mental illnesses, with all the associated negative connotations, but this kind of problem can lead to odd behaviour that is just as detrimental to the pursuit of a happy life. 

Of course, we're all on a spectrum - hence my novel's title, The A to Z of Normal - but it's surely impossible to say definitively where the 'normal' end lies? 

Some behaviours may seem so beyond the pale that there can be no doubting their abnormality, but even then, cultural differences may come into play. What is normal in one society may be shocking in another. Who's to decide what's right?

Image courtesy of taesmileland/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
And if 1,000 people do something, is it normal? 10,000? 100,000? Recent history is proof that even if a given attitude is widely held, or a particular behaviour is common practice, that is no guarantee of their wider acceptability.

The absence of a recognised mental health condition is no proof of a person's so-called normality either. Labels may bring stigma, but they're both inevitable and useful, as an accurate diagnosis will help to determine the best course of treatment. Not having a label, though, is no guarantee you're 'normal'!

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*Joe Ancis was a comedian who was apparently too shy to perform stand-up himself, but a major influence on Lenny Bruce and others.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Helen, and I LOVE that quote...never heard it before!

Mymanyproblems said...

"The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well."

Right. I often sort of half-joke with my friends that a relationship is just a prolonged discovery of a person's--let's say--unusualness. Additionally, of course, "normal" is relative to time and place.

Helen Barbour said...

ocdtalk and mymanyproblems, thanks for your feedback - to me, that quote says it all about mankind! And, yes, time and place matter, too.