What Is Normal?
Real Relationship Advice
As both scientists and writers nothing drives us to distraction more than someone usurping the use of a technical word and giving it a meaning that it should not have. If you are going to use a word then use it right. Since we are writing about mental health this week, we thought this would be a great time to clear up some vocabulary issues. You see, people generally do not use words from quantum physics but they bastardize psychology lingo all of the time.
Let’s start with the word normal. ‘What is normal? There is no such thing. Everyone’s a little abnormal.’ This was always a fun line of reasoning when we taught kids during their hormone induced rebellion phase. Normal is a mathematical word. Not only is there such a thing as normal but is can be calculated with high precision. If we have 100 people and we ask them a question, we can calculate the average answer. A couple of standard deviation on either side is normal. Normal is a math function but normal does not mean that it is right or healthy. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. This is normal but it is not the goal of a couple. Forty percent of transgender people try to commit suicide. This is not healthy but it is normal. In an Orwellian society where we can collect real time data constantly, normal would change with the mood of the people.
Now that we have a concept of normal, let’s talk about depression. People screw up this word all of the time. Depression is a clinical diagnosis. You cannot be diagnosed major depression today and not have it tomorrow. You are sad. Sad is an emotion that is both normal and healthy. If a person is grieving, they should be sad but they are not necessarily depressed. Depression is abnormal. (When you read the word ‘abnormal’ did you think the word ‘wrong’? If you did, stop it. Abnormal means that most people are not depressed. This is all. They are not broken. )
Also, you are not schizo or bipolar ,nor do you have ADD, unless you went to a doctor and you were diagnosed against some very specific criteria. Schizophrenia is a very severe brain disorder that can show up on a CAT scan. Not all people with a mental illness are schizophrenic and using the term flippantly is kind of scary to anyone in the know. You wouldn’t say that you are feeling all cancery today, would you? ‘I got my terminal cancer on today.’ All of these are real disorders with real consequences.
One of the reasons that we are writing about this is because we are advocates of therapy and taking care of both your normal and abnormal emotional issues. It is really hard to get people to go to a mental health professional when every mental issue, from severe mental health disorders to normal and healthy emotional processes, are lumped into the same category. If a hang nail and pancreatic cancer were lumped into the same category, no one would ever see a doctor. The stigma and fear would be too great. So we are writing this to ask everyone to do what they can to remove the shame and fear from mental health. Remember, we all want to be happy.