Normality has been a concept I have wrestled with most of my life, and it was the topic and title of a play I wrote in 1991 about my experiences of being a disabled pupil at an all-boys mainstream school within a very different era. I believe Normality can be seen in two very distinct ways, both of which I can strongly relate to.
The first way to see Normality is in terms of social conformity. The term normal relates to being average and therefore fitting in to what society expects of us. I think during my teens I try to conform in terms of trying to have a normal lifestyle. Each New Year, I resolved to eat with a knife and fork as opposed to a spoon, even if the novelty only lasted a few weeks. It was not a case of wanting to fit in, but more not knowing who I was, very similar to the ugly duckling who never seen their swan peers.
During my 20s, I realised my speech impairment and drooling made me a ‘freak’, which I regard as a positive term, and therefore there was little point conforming if it was not helping me. This realisation gave me the freedom to try bibs, helmets, nappies, cups and other devices that could help me have a comfortable lifestyle, especially in an era when these were not as acceptable as today.
My confidence to buck conformity, doing stuff even if I was the only person to do so, also gave me the ability to think for myself, and say what I actually think, and not what others want me to say, even if they do not understand their own conformity. I think Goths, anti-capitalist activists and so on often do not understand they are conforming to the role society asked of them as much as anybody else. A truly independent thinker is neither predictable or a stereotype of themselves, and so my often ‘lone voice’ often confuses people immensely.
The other side of Normality, is how we feel about ourselves. I was born with most of my impairments, and therefore I have no understanding of what life is like without them, and so these make them normal to me. In this way we can see normality have something only we can define for ourselves. Life is about periods of change that creates periods of normality. Each change we face can cause stress or distress while we embrace the change, or perhaps not. Normality is generated when we accept the change, especially if it is a part of about our inner story and journey. Not all change is good, and our response may be to turn the situation around, such as when we have lost a job, and immediately look for a new one.
Normality can therefore be defined as our comfort zone, even if our idea of normal is very different to what is expected from us and ‘being normal’. Thiss duality has always fascinated me and shows how powerful the concept of normality is. I have no desire to become normal, and always assumed it to be something boring, but at the same time I am normal and I am proud of that fact.
I think by understanding what we see as normal to ourselves, we can better understand who we are and how we relate to others, which is probably a normal thing to do.