Friday Flow #49: De-normalise normal
Why be “normal” when you can be, well, anything else?
Next week is my 50th newsletter! Keep an eye out here for how I’ll be celebrating that!
Earlier this week, I looked at my tummy in the mirror last week and wanted to poke a needle in it.
No, not literally, worry not. But I couldn’t help the thought as I observed how much it had ballooned. And it didn’t help either that I knew why: like I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I’ve had a bad emotional patch over the past few months. I might be able to say more about it someday (or not) but the point is I ended up coping maladaptively by comfort eating, which is something I’m really only admitting to myself that I do as I enter my fifth decade.
(I know, I know, you’d think being a psychiatrist, I’d know better, right? Just goes to show how much is easier said than done.)
Anyway, read on to learn something I read this week that I found incredibly helpful.
Normalising not saying “normal” (essay)
This week’s essay is another one of those that’s the coming together of strands from over several years, going back all the way to medical school: my beef with normal, my love of language and how we use it and my experience as a medical doctor and psychiatrist.
Here’s how it opens:
I tell medical students early in our interactions to avoid describing things as “normal” because it’s not the useful description they think it is.
I first learned this as a medical student myself. It was during our obstetrics and gynaecology posting and we were in a ward round. A fellow student was presenting a patient he had seen and used the phrase “normal delivery” to describe her recent childbirth. The consultant looked at him and said, very pointedly, “So if her delivery had been via Caesarean section it would have been abnormal?” And then he proceeded to teach us about simply describing delivery as vaginal, instrumental (like when forceps are required) or Caesarean.
I don’t recall the student’s response, if any, but the light that went off in my head in that moment has never since gone off.
You can read the rest of the essay here: Why normal isn’t useful for describing things
How to lose weight (link)
No, this isn’t something I wrote (although I wish I had!) It’s an insightful essay my friend Charlie Bleecker wrote this week that I really enjoyed. No, she wasn’t advising some super secret special diet. It was something way more simple: the kind of simply that’s easy to understand but hard to practice, because it’s way more profound than it seems on the surface. Charlie says it comes down to 3 things:
Throw out the scale and calorie counters
Think about how your food really makes you feel
Give yourself time and space to grow (inside, obviously, not outside)
This means a lot to me right now, because right this, I realised while eating yet some more junk that I wasn’t actually enjoying it. It sounds so stupid to say that out loud, but yeah, it happened. And it reminded me of something CS Lewis says in Screwtape Letters, about how we are so prone to ignore things we actually like for stuff that we don’t even really care for just because it’s familiar.
To sort of paraphrase Rick James from Chappelle’s Show, the mind is a helluva “drug.”
Go check out Charlie’s short and sweet essay: The real secret to losing weight—and hit me up with what you’d found most helpful in it!
Wagging or barking (proverb)
Speaking of things that aren’t normal:
It’s not for nothing that a dog that normally wags its tail barks at you
In the essay you’ll find that I talk about the various meanings of normal. But something I didn’t mention in there is why it’s important that we do pay attention to what we consider normal: so that when it changes, we take time to think about why.
Worth noting that the reason for the change is often inside us, not outside.
Take care, and talk soon (and don’t forget to keep your eye out for episode #50 next week!)