Does Living With a Mental Illness Mean I'm Not Normal?

August 13, 2012 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Living with a mental illness might make a person feel as if they are not normal. But normal is just a word, a word connected to feelings, and focusing on it does not help a person recover from mental illness.

What a silly title, right? After we reach adult maturity--hopefully before--we understand that the word 'normal' means very little. It is socially constructed and does not do anyone any good. But that does not mean it is not attached to our psyche, our feelings, in one way or another.

'Normal' is a Feeling

Yes, it can be a feeling. The word itself is useless, many words are, but this one carries some baggage and a strange juxtaposition.

Some people don't want to be 'normal'. They see it as a curse.

Example A:

"What do you mean I'm normal? That's so boring!" Ahem.

Perhaps, this person has a life involving socially 'normal' things such as working eight hours a day, a relationship that looks pretty good on paper, maybe a damn white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a 12 pound yapping dog that runs laps around the manicured backyard, irritating neighbors (sorry, that last bit involves my neighbors).

Does living with a mental illness mean I'm not normal?Let's assume they are content--I liken a state of 'content' with relative 'happiness' (another silly word)--but maybe feel they are missing out on something. On life!

Maybe they should travel more; jump out of an airplane! Sure, the job is great. The family is a unit, as a family should be, they believe. But they think to themselves, maybe late at night when they remember being younger and dancing: "My life is so normal!"

And said person wakes up, goes to work, and maybe comes home smiling. This person cannot define normal but they can attach feelings to it.

Exhibit B:

A person recently diagnosed with a mental illness. Life has become pretty hectic, or maybe it has always been, that's part of the illness. The life before recovery is found, claimed and cherished.

This person might think, while unable to sleep, "Why can't I be normal!" A perfectly reasonably, human thought. Said person might think of other people in their lives; maybe their neighbor with the yapping dog they would not mind kicking (metaphorically, of course).

It is reasonable for this person to believe that a white picket fence and 2.5-ish kids is normal.

Feeling as if we want to be something else, act in a different way, and have more control of our life is a human experience. It is part of the human condition.

'Normal' is Just a Word: Mental Illness is a Diagnosis

So, now we have sort of established this: 'Normal' is a word--it is a word that, when connected to mental illness, increases stigma. A generally useless word. If we apply this word to our mental health, if we try to obtain a state that does not exist, recovery is more difficult.

Instead of idealizing 'normal' focus on the word recovery. Recovery is a journey and eliminating the word 'normal', all of the idiotic connotations associated with it, allows us to focus on what really matters: becoming well and staying well.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2012, August 13). Does Living With a Mental Illness Mean I'm Not Normal?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Pam Bates
November, 20 2012 at 8:06 am

I think that what the word means is arrogance, iggnorance, unwillingness to learn what life is about when you use the word "normal"in the Mental Health Field. I think that the word Normal can be compared to the meaning "lack of Life". Because Life is not normal there is nothing normal about life but that everyone lives it.

Joanna Z. Weston
August, 22 2012 at 4:11 am

You are absolutely correct -- normal is just a word, and not a very useful one! There is no universal definition of what it means to be normal, anyway. It's a mental construct. The person in exhibit A is defining normal as "something about my life which I fear is boring," which is highly subjective. What one person find "normal" and "boring" might seem quite strange and exotic to someone else! The person in exhibit B is defining normal as "a quality I lack, but which other people have, which would make my life easier." Again, there is nothing objective there at all. As you say, it is mostly a feeling state. So if that person were to achieve the white picket fence and steady job, they likely still would not feel that they were "normal" -- only like they were pretending to be normal.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
August, 22 2012 at 6:55 am

Hi Joanna
Yes it is just a silly word with even sillier connotations:) "A mental contruct" is an ideal term---thank you for the comment!

Tina Barbour
August, 15 2012 at 10:43 am

I've been thinking lately of what my life might be like if I didn't have depression and OCD. I guess what I was really thinking was, what would my life be like if I was "normal." It would be different, but not necessarily better. I take comfort in that.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
August, 19 2012 at 12:39 pm

Hi, Tina:
I think it's something we all think about. It would be strange if we did not but I also think it's a large part of moving towards a state of acceptance--as difficult as that is. Thanks for your comment, Natalie.

Mark Koning
August, 13 2012 at 7:50 am

I presented a speech to a Cognitive Communications Disorder group in mid July and I referenced the word "normal". It is a very misleading word. This is an excerpt:
"I’ve learned a lot over the years and I am still learning, and I will never stop trying to learn. I used to think that what was wrong with me was that I was not normal, and I wanted to be normal and live a normal life regardless of whether or not I knew exactly what it was. I now think differently. I’ve heard a few times now, from people with similar injuries and experiences talking about “returning to normal”. While I understand a desire to return to the way things were, if things like the ability to drive or to understand or to work the way you used to are lost, I have to say that there is no return to normal. Not just because you can’t reverse time, but because there is no returning; or there is no need to return. We need to realize that. We need to understand that we don’t need to try and obtain “normal”, because we are normal. All of us, every single one; me, you and all the people out there. Things may change, but that’s life. We are all part of life.
My life, as hard as it may have been, has gotten me here. No loss or gain of “normal”, just life."

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
August, 15 2012 at 5:20 am

Hey Mark,
Congrats on the presentation---that, my friend, takes some guts! I wrote a blog about the differences between physical illness and mental and the stigma connected to it. Love your end quote.
Thanks Mark!

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