Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Revisiting the Normal vs Crazy Thing

Last night, I had a nightmare that I danced like a white man. This was way worse than my recurring dream where I’m married to Sarah Palin. Naturally, it was a huge relief to wake up and - oh crap! - well, at least I’m bipolar.

Most of you know what I’m talking about. We have a different way of perceiving reality, which of course affects our behavior. Too often, the result is outsider status. No one wants that. On the other hand, I bet no one ever told you this: “You’ll really love So-and-So! He’s so normal!”

Funny thing about our doctors. They may inform us that they will have us back to normal in no time, but they never actually say, “We’ll have you normal again.”

“Normal” is a reference to the status quo, how things are going “out there.” This is the world we need to learn to function in. But we don’t necessarily have to be “normal” to function in “normal.” This is hardly a condition we would aspire to. I always sort of knew this, but the light bulb went off last year when I read Nassir Ghaemi’s 2011 “A First-Rate Madness.” Dr Ghaemi pointed out that normal merely represents a statistical average and hardly an ideal.

How about crazy, then? I love that 1997 Apple ad. “Here’s to the crazy ones,” it starts out. "The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.”

We see short clips of Einstein, Edison, Amelia Earhart, and others. These are “the ones who see things differently. ... They change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

I keep coming back to crazy vs normal again and again. What prompted today’s piece is a comment from Liz in response to my recent repost on Darwin and evolutionary psychiatry:

I have been struggling for a long time to try and figure out how it is that bipolar disorder was somehow an evolutionary advantage. This comment of yours really hit home and brought tears to my eyes:

"I like to contend that it took a crazy person to run into a burning forest and enthusiastically bring a flaming souvenir back to the cave."

I know that as a bipolar person I am able to experience a different reality and range of emotions than people who have chemically "balanced" brains. It's helpful to hear an anecdote about how this difference in reality perception can actually make being bipolar useful rather than a burden.

Liz, I hear you. We are a minority surrounded by the chronically normal. It’s not easy living in a world where everyone dances like a white man. The only thing worse is actually dancing like a white man.

Further reading from mcmanweb

Normal - Highly Over-Rated
Psychic Perception
You See Four; I See 28


Tony Previte said...

Yup! :-)

Anonymous said...


The day I realized that striving to be 'normal' meant striving to be 'average' was the day my real healing and personal growth accelerated like a rocket ship. I don't want to be average, I don't want to give up all of the wonderful lessons my struggle with BP has taught me. I simply want to continue being proud of living a productive, compassionate, and loving life. Striving every day to be a better person and helping those around me to do the same. Oh, and I no longer fret over being the 'interesting' guy who is also a little bit of an oddball, sometimes fun and outgoing, other times quiet and shy. Funny, since I have stopped working so hard to achieve the 'normalcy' that I percieved the world as demanding, I am happier and the people around me are as well. The problem was mine after all.

I love and appreciate your work. Long time reader here. Thank you for your work.

Eric R

John McManamy said...

Hey, Eric. This is uncanny. This is my story, exactly. Like you, I don't sweat about coming across as an oddball, and likewise since I stopped working so hard to appear "normal" I find that people are a lot more comfortable with me, and vice-versa.

Yes, I need to be mindful of how I act in public, but this is no different than anyone else.

Heather said...

I totally let my freak flag fly now. It sometimes comes across as "intense" or aggressive, which as a woman is sooooo scary for the normals. But hey, I am who I am and I have adapted the behaviors I perceived as ineffective and let the rest just be. Sometimes, I am smarter and faster than the average person. Too damn bad for them!

John McManamy said...

Hey, Heather. Good for you! I'm coming to believe that our sanity depends on being ourselves, not hiding, not living in fear of not fitting in.

Yes, we need to learn to operate in a world dominated by "normal" people. But we don't have to be normal. We don't have to sacrifice who we are.

Thanks for having the guts to fly the freak flag. :)

Sophia said...

When I first entered treatment, I was a suicidal, weepy mess. One day I asked my psychiatrist if I was going to be normal again. He gave me a perplexed look and said, "You are normal. You just have Bipolar Disorder." Honestly, he was right. My life is pretty run-of-the-mill. Middle-class, married, mother to one child, three rescue cats, two fish, and two apple snails, did the 9-5 thing for awhile and now in grad school. Minus the whole alternating from suicidal to absolutely brilliant as far as I'm concerned, my life is pretty average. And I like it that way.

What I've gained from this mood disorder/anxiety disorder/personality disorder bit is compassion. I am considerably more compassionate than I was before I hit rock bottom. I've definitely had some accomplishments I might not have been able to meet had I not been experiencing some sort of hypomania, but I don't value those as much as I value my empathy for others. Because of these disorders, I learned I wanted to devote my life to serve others. I spent many years feeling as though life had no inherent meaning, and now I've found my own.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Sophia. Great comments. :)