The other day at lunch a few of us were discussing the new Medtronic pump and the difficulties diabetics have due to the insufficient pancreatic production of insulin. In other words, their pancreas doesn’t work like a “normal” person’s. This discussion made me think about how society define’s the word “normal.” What are the characteristics? According to the Webster’s Pocket Dictionary I have, “normal” is defined as:
conforming to a type or standard; regular
constituting a standard; model
of average intelligence or mental health
- in good physical health
In an attempt to define those synonyms, I learned that “everyday” and “common” are not even in my dictionary . Philip H. Herbst states in “Wimmin, Wimps, & Wallflowers” that when normal is used to define people and “… their personalities, practices, lifestyles, looks, physical or mental functioning, then ‘normal’ becomes loaded with problematic implications.” Society then creates a dichotomy between normal and abnormal, suggesting that if I’m normal, and you are different from me, than you must be abnormal by default.
The very definition of the word begs many other clarifications. What, then, is “normal physical health?” Can any person truly state that their body is in good physical health? Many of us take medications, vitamin supplements, allergy pills or other over-the-counter and/or prescription drugs to create a facade of normal within our own bodies. Can any of us really say that our bodies function exactly according to the literal definition of normal? If we take the synonyms to that of everyday body functions, then everyone is normal, as long as we prescribe to a standard of everyday events for our own, individual lives. The person who takes high blood-pressure medication or the person who takes medication for over- or under-active thyroid are, then, both normal. But are they any more normal than the epileptic who takes pills to prevent seizures? What about the person who takes Prozac for depression? Or the patient who’s prescribed a drug regimen by his psychiatrist for schizophrenia? For those persons, taking drugs for daily living is normal, and to them, not taking those drugs would be abnormal.
A person who is wheelchair-bound can be considered normal because their life is in a wheelchair and it is a common, everyday occurrence for them, just like driving to work is an everyday occurrence for people who can and do. Does a person who has not been diagnosed with diabetes have a “normal” functioning pancreas? They do for their body. If we took our blood sugar on a regular basis would our test be as out of whack as the diabetic?
This has given me, and the Access Press staff, much to think about. I hope you, too, will think of the words we use and how they really affect not only our own lives, but the lives and self-esteem of those who might function perfectly within the realm of their own life. No sensation or concept can be defined without its opposite. Without abnormal, normal wouldn’t be normal. It would just be. We wouldn’t know the difference. You look at someone and say, “You’re abnormal to me.” He looks you back in the eye and replies, “No—you’re abnormal to me!” This edition of Access Press is built around this concept. A few of the articles and columns weave together the thoughts and perceptions of what is considered normal by both the disability and the non-disabled community. So let’s take the time to discover the abnormalities within ourselves and honor those differences.