Mentally Ill or Neurodiverse?

Blog For Mental Health 2014Earlier this week I reblogged the launch of Blog for Mental Health 2014, a movement to raise awareness of and destigmatize Mental Health issues, diagnoses, and concerns. Here is my pledge:

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma. ~ A Canvas of the Minds

A new blogging acquaintance of mine, wrote an article on her blog, Crazy Good Parent, “Naming Names: Why “The Mentally Ill” Is The Wrong Thing To Call Us.” In this article she brings up the issue of how those of us who experience mental health “issues” are labelled by ourselves and by others and how the term “Mentally Ill” is a term which automatically instills negative connotations and responses both in us and in those who believe they do not experience such difficulties. She shared that one of our mutual blogging friends has coined the term, “Neurodiverse,” as a positive and constructive label, which eradicates the false wall separating us from the rest of the population. I agree.

The truth of the matter is that there truly is no such thing as “normal.” Normal is a statistical construct to classify and categorize a standard by which a statistically represented 80% of the population can feel comfortable and at ease about themselves because they fall into what is considered to be a “normal” range. The truth is that these kinds of statistical representations tend to follow a curved spectrum from a low, rising to a peak, then going back down to a low. The “normal” portion of the curve is where 80% of those tested fall on that curve. It’s actually where “grading on the curve” came from and why people who actually either studied more or understood the material better or easier came to be ostracized and criticized by those who fell in the “normal” range, because they raised the curve and expectations of the educators who used that method of grading. At any rate, the point is, that there is always a spectrum or range from low to high with which people function whether it be socially, intellectually, cognitively (the two are not really the same), or by any other operational measure.

It’s taken me a very long time to realize and accept that the things I have been criticized and blamed for, things which I have hated myself for, were things which were not correctly identified, understood, or taught about.

We toss about and misappropriate mental health diagnoses and joke about them the way Archie Bunker used to tell his bigoted racial jokes, getting canned laughter and increases in popularity because it makes us feel better to pretend that there is a “them” we are not part of, which makes “us” better. This is a big lie which keeps us sick and dysfunctional in our world, creating divisions and hiding the fact that we not only believe that there is such a thing as the “deserving poor,” but that there is also such a thing as mentally ill people who are worthy of dignity, support, encouragement, and respect and those who are not.

Once upon a time in America those who had visible physical deformities, with corresponding intellectual and cognitive delays and disabilities, were treated horrifically. In some places that may still be true today. However, we now have things like Special Olympics where the people who experience these differences are still taught to respect themselves, each other, and to work to the best of their abilities, within the context of who they are and what they have to reach to achieve whatever they think they can achieve.

Concurrently, there are multiple generations of people whose physical appearance and basic communication skills gives them the appearance of “normality.” They may be socially awkward, excel at spatial relationships but be incapable of understanding how to function or navigate within complex systems. We may be able to process and understand anything we study, yet be unable to make consistently rational decisions and have failed to achieve our potential, as determined by family members, friends, and society, despite numerous efforts.

If we “look normal” and our actions and outcomes fail to meet “normal” expectations, then, we are often considered to be broken, less than, at fault, and to be shunned and discounted as being unworthy or unwilling to help ourselve to be more normal.

I’m not normal. I haven’t had a normal life. I wasn’t born of normal people and was not raised according to normal standards. I haven’t had a normal day in my life, except that every day has been normal for me. I’m finally coming to understand what my kind of normal is and forgive myself for not having been normal and not knowing how to work with the normal that was mine while raising my oldest two children. Now that I’m doing so, I’m understanding that I want to raise my youngest daughter to accept herself and her normal and that I want her to learn to accept that other people will have their own version of normal.

Just as we are culturally and ethnically diverse, with different gifts and skills, we are neurodiverse with different neurochemistry, different life experiences which have affected brain development and cognition, different genetic predispositions for different diseases, disorders, addictions, and compulsions, and have been raised by people with different abilities to teach us how to live inside of our skins and inside of our brains. We are neurodiverse and there is no normal.


  1. Great article. Normal depends on who is making the judgment, and also depends on the environment and time period you are in. Certain behaviors may have been considered normal a century ago, but not now, and vice versa. Who is to judge what normal is? There is no objective normal.


    1. Heartminder,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I apologize for the much delayed response. Depression took over and today is the first time in months that I’ve logged on.

      Your point is well made and very apt.



    1. I have a friend of mine who experiences a more severe form of bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed as an adolescent. One of the biggest issues which seems to regularly crop up for this friend is the fact that service providers and medical professionals continue to label as “sick” and because of this, a paid position as a peer mentor for NAMI, is being deemed as undesireable. It is very sad and disturbing how the labels and categorizations have taught us to reject ourselves and each other.

      Thanks for sharing your Pride In Madness.



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