This week I made a public disclosure. On live radio I confidently said, “I have been in an abusive relationship.” It was to illustrate my point about the complexities of domestic violence. I said it for two reasons, 1) to convey to the listeners and my colleagues in the studio that I spoke with some authority on the topic and 2) because I believe in the Power of Normal.
Every time I share something deeply personal like this, I find it opens the opportunity for other people to share and disclose. It happens repeatedly.
A few months ago, in a room full of people who had known one another for around six years, my disclosure of depression and anxiety led to other people also disclosing, for the first time ever in this cohort. This, for me, is the Power of Normal.
When something unusual becomes more commonplace, we find it easier to talk about. Take cancer for instance. Cancer used to be a dirty word. People used to be ashamed of it. Now, in many parts of the world, we’re able to talk about it openly, discuss treatments and recovery processes. We’re moving in the same direction with HIV and Aids, although even in the Western world, there’s still a long way to go on this topic. Normalising issues so they’re easier to talk about holds huge power for an individual’s ability to manage the issues and overcome the challenges.
A quick Google search about the importance of talking about our problems leads to this advice from Better Health Victoria (which is commonplace in online information, particularly targeted at children and young people):
“If you don’t talk about your problems, you may find … that things may get worse if you don’t try to get on top of them straight away.”
And I think most people would agree that not dealing with problems, not talking about issues, can often make them seem much bigger than they are.
So given that the above isn’t rocket science, why don’t we normalise problems more often?
A recent conversation with a good friend involved a lengthy discussion about the power of stigma. Stigma is defined as, “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
When we look at the stigma around mental health, we are essentially tarnishing people with a mark of disgrace, for being a human. Which, in my opinion, is a bit fucked up.
But it happens all the time. Mental health isn’t the only culprit. Think back to those halcyon days of the school playground, and highlighting difference and picking on people for being ‘other’ was often the name of the game. Our concept that different or other is bad or wrong gets formed at a very young age. Conformity is paramount. We dress kids in uniforms so they all look the same. We push them to achieve academic results within a bell curve. We homogenise at many given opportunities. Rarely do we celebrate difference.
If we think back to earlier days, it’s easy to see how this pattern emerges. When life was really about surviving, supporting the pack and being one of the team was truly beneficial. Difference was a weakness, because it could lead to injury or death. Occasionally however, this difference would catch on, and hence human beings have evolved as we have … because it’s our difference from other species that makes us stand out as much as we do. Difference created evolutionary strides. Difference made us strong.
Broadly speaking, most humans are pretty clever. In comparison to many other species, even the fuckwit humans could be said to be fairly brainy. So given that we’re smashing the intelligence race, why do we still not get the power of celebrating difference? Why do we still shy away from the Power of Normal?
My honest answer to this question: I have no fucking idea.
Sometimes it’s hard yes. Sometimes it makes us feel vulnerable. Sometimes, when we’re confidently flying the Power of Normal flag, one of the aforementioned fuckwit humans comes along and thinks we’re still in the school playground, and reacts accordingly. And that can hurt.
But I really believe in the Power of Normal. More than I believe in the power of a fuckwit human to have any impact upon my life. And there in lies the key … The Power of Normal is really important to me. And I intend to employ it at any given opportunity, not only for me, but also for other humans, even for the fuckwit ones. Because chances are they’re only fuckwits because they’re hiding their own difference. Because they’re not truly comfortable in their own skin. Because they haven’t yet realised their own potential empowerment through the Power of Normal.