Growing up with my cleft lip and palate, I always said I just wanted to be 'normal'. My cleft didn't make me feel 'unique', 'special' or an 'individual', it made feel isolated, alone, weird and 'ab'normal.
The issue is, no one can really define 'normal'. We're all a little different, a little bit odd and we can all be a bit weird. Plus it's normal to want to be 'normal' - to blend in, to be like others in the hope we'll be liked and accepted.
When you see you're the only one with a particular difference - like a cleft - we can feel like we're not like everyone else: they don't have to deal with this, their nose, lips, mouth, teeth aren't medically different. They don't have to go to the hospital or have a million orthodontist appointments - I'm the one who does, I'm the one that's different, I'm the one that's not normal.
As a cleft lip and palate patient, it's often easy to feel more noticeably different to other people and feel pressures from this. When we’re born, we haven't developed as ‘expected’ or like ‘usual’ babies, so these differences can make us feel more isolated or ‘ab’normal. This is made harder when being ‘normal’ in today’s society seems to change every day, especially when ‘normal’ and ‘perfect’ are often confused as the same thing and everyone's definition is different. With Photoshopped glamazons streaming on our screens, the pressure to present and be 'normal' is made increasingly difficult, especially with a facial difference.
However, when you strip back the filtered reality and start seeing the people, we realise no one is 'normal'. Yes, people may share similarities but everyone has something that makes them stand out - some insecurity they're dealing with. When you start to look at the idea of ‘normality’ further, I can only come up with one conclusion: there is no normal idea of ‘normal’. Being 'normal' is actually impossible.
I firmly believe our differences are something to be celebrated and this is where you can be empowered by recognising you're not normal - you're awesome. I recently found an old lower school book which had a worksheet where you had to write about yourself. One of the questions was along the lines of ‘What do I like about myself?’. I had written that I liked my nose because it was ‘special’. Sadly, this uplifting attitude deteriorated as I grew up and was faced with the self-conscious anxiety of teenage-hood.
Seeing my eight-year-old answer reminded me that under the surface of society’s pretensions and ideas of ‘normal’, ‘special’ is what we should be concerned with (even when that can feel really difficult). Realistically we're all different and we're all special in our own way - no one is 'normal', it's an idea that can be used to make us feel horrible and wrong when in fact 'normal doesn't exist.
I get it though, there will be days when we feel isolated because of our differences - on these days it can be useful to remember that 1 in 700 people are born with a cleft. If the world's population is around 7.8 billion, that means there are at least 11 million other people who have a cleft - who'll be going through the same things we're going through, who'll feel different to their friends and family sometimes, but we're certainly not alone.
Instead of wanting to be ‘normal’, I think it’s important to embrace being unique: to not conform to others’ expectations – in any part of your life. Being unique makes you far more interesting to be around, it means you don’t shy away from your differences, but that you embrace and celebrate them.
‘Normal’ may be impossible to define and while it's something we can think we need to be, being unique is something we should strive to be. Forget boring normality and embrace individual awesomeness.