Chapter 14: N is for Normal

Normal: adjective

nor·​mal | \ ˈnȯr-məl \

Definition of normal

1a: conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern: characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine

b: according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, procedure, or principle

2: occurring naturally

3a: approximating the statistical average or norm

b: generally free from physical or mental impairment or dysfunction: exhibiting or marked by healthy or sound functioning

c: not exhibiting defect or irregularity

d: within a range considered safe, healthy, or optimal ¹

The first thing that really surprised me when I decided to choose the word Normal for N, was how many definitions there are. It’s like someone, say Mr. Merriam, decided to define the word and said, “this is what Normal means.” Then someone else, possibly Mr. Webster, said “Well, wait a minute, what about this?” And then Mr. Merriam said, “Well yes, that could work too.” Then another person, possibly their executive assistant, piped up and said, “Hold your horses, couldn’t it also mean this?” And the other two thought a moment, and said “Well, you have a point there. Ok, sure, we can add that too.” And at noon, the conversation moved to the lunchroom where it was debated by the rest of the staff until it was decided that the word Normal could be a noun or an adjective, and there were at least twenty viable definitions.

So all of these years that I’ve been saying “There’s no such thing as normal”, I’ve been wrong. There are A LOT of things that could be considered normal. There is even a town named Normal (north of Bloomington in central Illinois, population 52,497) and I’m sure the good people of that town would have a thing or two to say about my normal denying. (Or not…as if they’d care.)

For the purposes of this book, though, I have decided to stick with the first few definitions and talk about how anxiety and normal get along.

I remember when I first went for psychotherapy, one of the most surprising things I learned is that there are a whole lot of people who think and act like me. I am not alone in my weirdness. Technically, my tendency to think that I am not equal to the other humans in the world makes me, well, normal. Interesting.

Living with anxiety can cause you to act in ways that you don’t always see others acting. Like sanitizing hotel rooms, and always having to sit with your back to a wall. Like avoiding social interactions. Like always having to have a plan, preferably written, and possibly itemized in a spreadsheet. (Is that just me?)

But what we don’t see is that everyone else is doing their own thing to make their lives a bit easier. We’re too busy focusing on our oddness. A while back, my husband and I went to dinner with friends, and, as always, I was worried about not being able to inconspicuously get a seat with my back to a wall and having to ask someone to change seats with me. When we got to the table, our one friend, a big burly fellow with a long beard and an imposing demeaner, was already sitting in one of the seats against the wall. I slid in beside him, and because I know these two so well, mentioned that this is a manifestation of my anxiety, only being able to sit like that. Turns out, he’s the same. It instantly strengthened the bond I already had with this man, and made me appreciate our spouses all the more, as they are content to sit with their backs to the room. Win win. And as always, I felt the need to make the joke that this trait of mine exists because I believe that I was stabbed in the back in a former life.

So what’s a girl to do with all of this self-judgement? Well, change the dialogue of course.

I’ve come to love the words “unique” and “authentic”. Using these words to describe ourselves not only sounds better (possibly even slightly exotic?) but seeing ourselves in this way can help us drop the comparisons with others who seem to fit in so easily. When we stop comparing ourselves, we can relax and even enjoy exploring what we bring to the party. More relaxing, more well-being, and less anxiety. Who doesn’t want that?

And if we really want to appear normal, I found a checklist online that can make us all more socially acceptable, thus appearing more “normal”. Just by writing this book, I’ve already failed No. 6., but that’s just me being unique and authentic. I can live with that.

1. Practice good hygiene.

2. Exercise and eat healthier.

3. Practice small talk and socialization.

4. Avoid inflammatory conversation topics.

5. Consider your body language.

6. Avoid oversharing about personal issues.

7. Practice courtesies and polite behavior.

8. Explore new activities and interests.

9. Dress appropriately.

10. Consider when NOT to be normal. ²

1. www.meriam-webster.com

2. How To Be Normal: 10 Simple Tips That Actually Work (aconsciousrethink.com)

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