Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Are You Normal?

I read a very interesting article in Psychology Today, entitled, "What is Normal?" The premise of the article is that psychiatric diagnoses have become so prevelant, it is as though nearly everyone has a disorder of one kind or another. Whenever someone is having a difficult time, happy and acting a little eccentric, wanting some "alone" time, and so on, it seems that the professionals are quick to put a label on them and medicate them.

As I read the article, I thought about all the labels I've worn over the years. It started in high school, where I was given the labels of "withdrawn" and "depressed". Perhaps it was not that I was withdrawn, but that I just didn't know where I fit in and I was intimidated by the task of finding out. I was also painfully shy back then, which was interpreted by the professonals as being withdrawn and depressed. Perhaps I wasn't depressed, so much as I just needed a mentor of some kind to help me navigate the experience of adolesence and all the mixed up emotions thereof. In any case, I was given labels.

As an adult, I was given more labels. I was diagnosed with a few different disorders, not the least of which being bipolar disorder. In my mid-twenties, I was told that my long list of diagnoses were probably enough for me to get disability, and I should try. I chose not to, but that did not erase the labels.

As life went on after being labeled, I began to live my life according to those labels, subconsciously telling myself to live within the confines of the labels. I felt incapable of doing much of anything, so I rarely tried. According to my diagnoses, I was severely depressed and withdrawn most of the time, had trouble understanding relationships, and had difficulty focusing on the tasks at hand.

Perhaps there is some truth in all of those things, but I didn't adopt just "some" of the truth. I bought the whole thing, and lived my life accordingly. I took few risks, accomplished very little, had only a few friends, and lived very safely, lest my many disorders should overtake me.

In the article, the author suggests that there is a new trend occuring in which people who have "disorders" are not living as though there is something wrong with them. Rather, they are living as though their "disorders" are not disorders at all, but are simply a characteristic of who they are. In adopting such an attitude, they have freed themselves from the constraints of their diagnosis. It seems that, more and more, this is becoming a widely accepted way of embracing the imperfections of being human.

We are so quick to label, perhaps forgetting that putting a label on someone automatically puts shackles on their soul, whether we intend to or not. To this day, I feel those constraints. To this day, I feel like the freak show, and it impacts much of what I do. I didn't give much thought to it until I read this article, but I see it now. I still live with minimal risks, and I still keep my distance from people because I want to feel safe, because I still don't know where I fit in. I struggle with depression, and I often wonder if those struggles would be as difficult if I had not been given permission...via my constantly struggle with depression.

What labels do you wear? How have those labels impacted your life?

One of the women featured in the article says, "I think people confuse normal with average. Who wants to be average?" She is a very successful business woman and author, despite the labels of "dyslexic" and "retarded" being put on her when she was very young. She says she refuses to operate from a platform of inadequacy.

We can embrace the label and all that comes with it, or accept that some of us aren't "average", but that does not mean there is something wrong with us. We are imperfect and do not fit into the place society may have carved out for us, but we do fit into the bigger picure, somewhere. What is normal, anyway? Who fits into the mold of "normal"? Nobody that I know, I'm sure. So, where does that leave us?

Why do we need to label, diagnose, and treat people? Why do the ups and downs that are simply part of life have to become something that needs therapy and medication? Surely, there are conditions that need treatment, but the normal sad and happy and everything in between does not merit the labels that are so freely given out.

I'm not normal. Then again, neither are so many others. I wonder how many others struggle because they were labeled. I also wonder if I will ever live down those labels, or if they are going to follow me for the rest of my life. Living in a small town where everyone knows...and remembers...your entire history, it is difficult to believe that they day will come when these labels will no longer haunt me.

What say you?

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