What Is “Normal” Anyway?

I was 19. Just one month into my first semester of college. With ombre hipster highlights and this oversized t-shirt with Greek sorority letters embroidered across the front.

I looked every inch the part.

But I wasn’t roaming a campus, textbooks nestled in the crook of my elbow, flaunting a Starbucks nonfat mocha like the stereotype I’d once hustled so hard to become.

Nope. I wasn’t exhilarated by the “newness” surrounding me. I was an entire world removed from it all.

As most of my peers doodled on the creases of their notebooks, feigning concentration on some 101 lecture, I perched in a rusted folding chair, knees clutched to my chest. A defensive posture that I figured might help me seem invisible.

The room was sparse. Light was scarce. And I was just one of eight other girls near the same age, seated in a circle and firmly avoiding eye contact. Our therapist had stationed herself in the center, presiding over the sullen group of teens which formed our motley crew.

Based on first impressions, we had nothing in common. And yet…for that singular moment, we had everything in common.

A rigid frame of reference that controlled each perception or opinion we held about ourselves. A shared experience through which we funneled our deepest insecurities and secret shames. We heard the white noise of inadequacy, the siren call of addiction—heard it loud and clear.

And we all had answered.

It brought us together in that austere, clinical room. Sequestered from our lives. Detached from the habitual. The expected. The routine. We didn’t know if “routine” was a place we even belonged anymore. We couldn’t decide what seemed real. So we became a unified “other.”

But as I watched the surreal scene materializing around me, there was a sense of abstract observance. No agency or active participation. And so the words just tumbled out…

I want to be normal.

Translation: I want to feel acceptance, approval, affirmation. But I’m different. I’m weird. I’m uninvited. I’m alone.

What does normal mean though? How did we reach this conclusion? What standard are we comparing against? Should we strive to attain that benchmark? And how can we know if we’ve gotten there? Is anyone normal—or is normal an illusion?

I’ve since realized that I don’t have a working definition of “normal.” It’s such an overused, ambiguous term. I can’t even articulate the draw of normalcy. But it’s there. A cultural fixation. A gauge for social inclusion. A mold we don’t understand but wedge ourselves into regardless.

So that’s how society perceives normal. But how does the dictionary interpret this word?

Conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern. Not deviating from a norm, rule or principle. Characterized by average intelligence or development.

That is…

Mediocre. Forgettable. Ordinary. Same.

Normal fades into the background. Dims around the edges. Blends into its environment. Normal isn’t human.

The scope and depth of normal are never enough to contain all our facets, dimensions or complexities. We’re not shrouded in sameness. We’re saturated in living color and sharpened focus.

If I could re-enter that room and crouch beside the 19-year-old aching for validation, I would urge her: Don’t conform. Don’t you dare. Because you’re not normal. No one is. And that’s our saving grace. We are diverse. We are luminous. We are quirky. We are intense. We are striking. We are fiery. We are original. We are the resident weirdos.

We’re humanity.

And normalcy has nothing on us.

don't be normal

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