Am I Normal?

I spent many years working in public mental health with people who have serious, chronic mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia. Over and over they would say to me “well you’re normal, you don’t get it”. I started to question, what exactly is normal and how do we define it for ourselves?

Research shows that 1 in 4 people have a mental illness at any given time according to estimates from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Over the course of a lifetime, 50% of people will have a mental health diagnosis. If we extrapolate that to friends and family members of those with a mental health diagnosis, then almost everyone (dare I say absolutely everyone?) is affected in some way by mental illness. Sadly, there’s a stigma around mental illness so people don’t talk about it and it stays hidden in shadows.

Definition of Normal: “Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. The usual, average, or typical state or condition.”

According to the Oxford Dictionary, normal can also refer to “a person free from mental health disorders.”

If 50% of people have a diagnosis over the course of a lifetime, then the average person would have a diagnosis. Therefore these definitions are contradictory.

Who’s to say what goes on in a person’s private life, what they think and feel when they are alone and not trying to put on a façade for people around them? You don’ t know what is really going on in someone’s life – you only know what they choose to show you.

I propose that there is no such thing as normal. We all live our lives, experience our stresses, fight with our loved ones, worry about work and have days when we don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. There are days when we don’t feel functional and days when we feel good. There are days when we feel normal, and days when we don’t. We are all individuals having a unique experience from moment to moment.

Normal is also culturally defined. In the Western world we think that someone who hears voices is “crazy”. There are some cultures where people who hear voices are considered gifted and blessed. Some people see it as a spiritual experience.

Consider the known statistics and consider your own family. If you are married and have 2 children (the average in the US), then one of you will have a mental health diagnosis. I say that’s “normal”, and it’s ok.

To paraphrase the popular saying, normal is in the eye of the beholder.

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20150331_115320-2Linnea Butler, LMFT is a psychotherapist working in the San Francisco Bay Area. She specializes in working with trauma and PTSD, including childhood abuse and sexual trauma, as well as mood disorders and personality disorders. She offers both individual and group therapy.

Linnea Butler, LMFT
Bay Area Mental Health
Los Gatos, CA


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