It should come as no shock to any of you that I’m a huge mental health advocate. I work very hard to promote the normality of mental health, and lifting those up who feel like they are less than or broken because of those struggles. I run a support group on Facebook for emetophobia, and every day I interact with people who feel like their phobia makes them worthless, disgusting and undeserving (but, spoiler alert: it doesn’t!).
However, it hit me while I was commenting on a post recently how, despite my best efforts to normalize mental health, I too have fallen victim to making myself (and likely others) still feel less than. I do this by referring to non-emets (and non-anxiety sufferers) as “normal people” and I think it’s time we changed that.
Because, really, what the hell is normal anyways?
I once had an abnormal psych professor in college who challenged us to figure out what “normal” was. He told us normal is a lie (of course I’m sure he said it a little nicer than that), and every single one of us is abnormal and that it’s okay. Essentially, the TL;DR? version is abnormality is normal, and he challenged us to embrace our flaws as positive parts of ourselves.
This concept is still very strange to me as well, because I still lament about the idea of what’s normal. Anxiety exasperates this need for normality, constantly questioning if how I’m feeling, what I’m doing, or what I’m experiencing is “normal” for people.
My husband has to constantly remind me, “What’s normal for you may not be normal for other people. Stop comparing yourself!” Sometimes his ability to help me goes completely unseen until I realize it myself, and I know it just drives him up the wall. But this statement is incredibly true, and something I’m actively trying to work into my daily self-affirmations.
Because, truly, your “normal” isn’t going to be the same as neighbor Jimmy’s normal, or even the same as your best friend Mary’s normal. Your normal is whatever works for you. It’s your special self-care routine, it’s knowing exactly how much social interaction you can have before shutting down, and realizing that your little quirks that help you manage a panic attack don’t make you weak – they make you self aware.
Just because you have a mental illness doesn’t mean that you are less than someone who doesn’t. The mental health community at large is constantly advocating for a better understanding and stopping the stigma, yet we are sometimes the ones perpetuating the very concept we are fighting against. To say that someone without anxiety, depression or other mental health disorder is “normal” is feeding this idea that you are less than. Stop that, because you are wonderful, worthy and special.
So now? We change the script.
Instead of saying that someone without mental health issues is normal, just refer to them as someone without anxiety. Say they are a “non-anxiety sufferer” or a “non-emet”; call them for what they are, not what your mind sees them as.
Using the word normal in these instances isn’t something that is going to go away, but instead of seeing normal as a standard that you are trying to achieve, see it as something that you already are and are already owning. Just because you are different than someone else doesn’t mean you aren’t normal, it just means that your reality and their reality are different, and both of those realities are normal.
Being different doesn’t make us flawed, it makes us special. Embrace what makes you normal, and do away with the logic that your mental illness makes you less than.
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Lastly, we run an Emetophobia Support Group on Facebook. Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up, and it is one struggle we are passionately engaged in. It is a closed, by request only group to help facilitate sharing and support by all members. It is also private, meaning that the posts you and others make will not show up publicly in your newsfeed.