The Phoenix Zine



I’ve watched my share of Oprah. Most of the time when she’s talking about important issues I find her to be sensitive, non-judgemental and an inquirer of interesting questions. But when I heard her ask a guest if things had gone back to normal after her time of hardship, I was disappointed.

When I was younger, I knew I was different from the other kids in my life. In my mind, they were normal and I wasn’t, plain and simple. Normal people didn’t get sick enough to end up in the hospital. Normal people did not have scars on their chest or think about how another person died and gave them life. Normal people did not take early morning trips with their dads to have blood work before the school day started.

It seems laughable as I know at the time I also didn’t think I was normal because I was the daughter of a pastor. Now, many years later, I am convinced the amount of people who actually believe they are normal are few and far between.

Which begs the question, what the heck is normal anyway? When I looked it up on, a variety of definitions came up. Here are some highlights:

– usual; not abnormal; regular; natural
– average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment
– free from any mental disorder; sane
– free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation

I am not any of those things, except perhaps sane. Maybe. But in admitting I’m not normal, I also admit that I am not average. In fact, I am unusual, abnormal, irregular and unnatural – or in other more positive terms: incomparable, extraordinary, unimaginable and unique.

I’d like to say I have wholly given up trying to be what society considers to be normal, but then I would be lying. Instead of always embracing my uniqueness, sometimes I still feel like I did in grade school, that no one could possibly like me because I am such a freak. Let’s face it, it’s a challenge to accept you are different and to find peace in that, especially when it feels like society is upholding normal as a gold standard.

But for now, normal is taking on a new meaning for me. On another Oprah show, Oprah amended her question of normalcy by asking a guest if she had a new sense of normal after her time of hardship.

Even if I’m not considered normal by society, if I remove myself from being compared to other people my life takes on its own sense of normal. It is normal for me to have to go for blood work every month. It is normal for me to take drugs everyday. It is normal for me to think about my donor and whether my life has done him justice. What throws me for a loop is when my personal sense of normalcy is shattered.

Back in the summer of 2004, such a shattering occurred. I went to the hospital for a routine echo, and wound up with a two-week hospital stay. The culprit? A two-centimetre blood clot in the left ventricle of my heart. Suddenly I was plunged into the world of heart medication, pacemaker/defibrillator appointments and surgeries, and the ultimate knowledge that if my heart degrades further, the only option will be a heart transplant.

After almost four years, it is only now I truly feel I have relaxed into a new sense of normal. It is a normal I had never imagined for myself, but a normal that proves to me people can get used to almost anything. In time, I think society too will come around to the fact that normal in our world today has many faces.


  1. Hi Amy,
    I love your optimism, however, I would have to disagree with the comment that you think “society will come around to the fact that normal in our world has many faces.” I do not think this will ever happen.
    Why? you ask, because from the time you enter the classroom as a small child you learn who is smarter, who is more pretty, who has the nicer clothes, who is the most popular, who is chosen for the teams, who has the disability or illness etc. Some unfortunate children hear this message at home before they even enter the school system, through parents or siblings etc. From then on comes the voice that tells you, you are just not enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not healthy and strong enough, etc. The media then plays on our weaknesses and insecurities and makes billions and billions from us in our attempt to belong and not stand out as anything but normal. Since the media is only increasing in stature and influence with internet, facebook etc. this will only generate more “not enoughism”. With the increase of different types of media comes the power to generate voices such as your own, to fight back the definition of normal that society gives us.
    I feel we can make great strides in the area of awareness and giving more respect and dignity to others with differences (of any sort not just disability and illness)and I believe that in many,many ways we have done so. I believe this has been accomplished by those who are willing to stand up and say, “Hey, I don’t accept your definition of normal and you won’t speak for me!”
    Companies have far too much money at stake to lose this war. Media and industry will never allow us as a society to accept one another as ‘beings’, all on equal footing ‘just because’. Continually comparing ourselves with others makes us either feel superior or inferior and the market share is on the side of inferior. The secret lies from within, being content with yourself and the circumstances that you find yourself in. Companies that profit billions from our external sense of lack and our internal sense of inferiority will not be promoting a message of acceptance anytime soon.
    With that said, we must not remain silent and give in, because there are battles in the war that can be won despite being total victors in the war, so keep up the good work.

  2. After reading this blog, I realized that as Amy had, our definition of normal changes as our life changes. This made me evaluate how my definition of normal has changed as my life has changed. Normal changes for people – as you get married – have children – as your children grow up – as you job changes – as you age – as your hobbies and interest change – in fact normal changes as often as you need it to.
    This blog made me re-evaluate where my normal is today and realize that my perception of what is normal – although it is affected by the media – is clearly a reflection of where I stand today in my life. I guess being normal and/or average brings a lot of comfort but thanks Amy for making me re-evaluate – and be happy – for my normal.

  3. Over the last week we’ve been dicussing chronic illness in the media. What Amy says in this blog about using positive terms to describe oneself reminded me of a recent episode of America’s Next Top Model I saw just last week. I admit to being a bit of a reality television buff but I found an interesting connection between this particular episode and her post about normality. This week the models were asked to emphasize a feature about themselves that they were self concious about or teased about as a child. They coined a term for this feature using both a negative and positive point of few. For example, one model who was well over 6 feet tall was challenged to view her height not as “abnormal” but as an amazing asset. Though I agree that most reality shows are filled with mind numbing (but entertaining) garbage, I felt this particular episode of ANTM had a very positive message for anyone who has ever been labled as “normal” or “abnormal.” I totally agree with Amy when she said that “the amount of people who actually believe they are normal are few and far between (1),” and that the word “normal” is almost undefinable. Everyone has their own perception of normality, and isn’t it possible that the effects of living with a chronic illness could feel normal to some people? I believe we live in a society where being unique is a desired quality. So if we were all “regular, natural, average in any pshychological trait, as intelligence, personality, emotional adjustment, and free from any mental disorder or disease (1),” what would happen to this uniqueness? I think the idea or “normal” also ties into Amy’s discussion on the term “differently- abled” as opposed to “disabled.” If the word disabled is synonymous to the word abnormal, why is it that many people with chronic illnesses such as the blind and deaf do not consider themselves to be disabled? It is because they are not incapable, they are differntly-abled. There is no such thing as normal. I think it is very important, as Amy says, to “remove [ourselves] from being compared to other people [and to let life] take on its own sense or normal (2).”

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