45: Q&A – How do we know what’s “normal” and what’s not?

Ptyx asked me: How do we know what’s “normal” and what’s not?

Before I got started answering that, I thought I’d better make sure I understood what she was asking, since there were a couple of different ways I can see to come at it (How do I know when I’m “normal” instead of in the grip of a manic or depressive phase; or how do we define normal as opposed to not?).  When I asked her, she replied: “The question was mostly general, that is, the second option: how can someone tell who is normal, or what behaviour is normal? I think the first option is part of the problem, too. But I guess that, before deciding if someone is behaving normally, we have to decide what is normal and what’s not.”

I think my answer to that will have to run very much along the lines of something my psychiatrist once said to me.  To give some background to that conversation, I’d been having what I like to call mild “reality issues” – and yes, I have degrees of reality issues, but when I’ve had the most severe ones, it’s been when I’ve been the most ill – so Mum was concerned that I might be heading in that direction.  Which is very bad no good stuff.  Anyhow, I’d been having some very vivid, lifelike, repetitive dreams.  Repetitive in the sense that I went to the same place every time: what happened wasn’t the same.  My sleep was a bit all over the place, so it all seemed a bit dreamlike when I was awake too, so it was making sense to me that both places were equally real.  YMMV.  However, in general, I was doing OK.  I was sleeping every day at some point, I was eating and going out, I was getting other things done.  There was just the risk that I might end up going too high.  So, I went to see the doctor, and after going through it all with me, he asked if it was distressing me?  No, it wasn’t, because the other place was perfectly nice and interesting, just different to here.  Was it stopping me from functioning when I was awake – taking care of myself, eating, socialising?  Nope.

In that case, he said, it doesn’t matter.  Don’t worry about it, just carry on as you were.  Make sure you keep taking your meds, keep track of your moods, and if it gets worse: becomes distressing, stops you functioning, makes you do things that are risky to yourself or others; that’s when there needs to be further intervention.

So I think that’s become my definition of “normal”.  Able to take care of oneself and function safely and well in society. Does that make sense?  I can be manic, I can be depressed, Person X can be a bit eccentric, Person Y can be schizophrenic, and so on, but if we’re all doing well enough that we’re not doing ourselves or anyone else any damage physically or mentally… then that’s “normal” enough for me.

“Normal”, of course, is just as much a  label as anything else.  And it’s a subjective thing – different people will have different definitions.  Often, that definition will be “like me”.  That’s too restrictive for me.

Once again, I’ll point you to Cia’s post on the subject – it’s a good one!

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Listening to: Florence And The Machine – Dog Days Are Over
via FoxyTunes

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2 Responses to 45: Q&A – How do we know what’s “normal” and what’s not?

  1. Charlotte says:

    That is an excellent working definition of normal…. but now has me worried that I’m not – I very rarely look after myself. *worryworry*

    • Lou says:

      Thank you!

      Well, in this case “looking after yourself” means personal care: getting out of bed, getting washed and dressed, making (or getting) food and eating (at all!).

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