The question of ‘normality’ and what it is  has cropped up again in relation to this weekend’s Bonkerfest. I read about it in The Times at the weekend in an article which explains the ‘Mad Pride’ movement which has made its way over here, unsurprisingly, from the States.

The Times article refers to the growing movement of people who initially in the States but increasingly here

‘are gathering to fight the stigma of “the mad woman in the attic” and show they can live successful lives.’

Liz Spikol , a US journalist with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, is seen as a torch-bearer for the movement which is growing – and her blog is one of the keystones of the movement. It is and has been spreading though.


The Times announces that

In London, a group of people who self-consciously refer to themselves as “mad” are getting together for a day-long festival on Saturday, aptly named Bonkersfest. It bills itself as a celebration of madness, creativity, individuality and eccentricity, “bonkers celebrations for everyone — bonkers or not”.

So Dolly Sen, 37, an artist and writer, will spend the day trying to screw a light bulb into the sky because “the world is dark enough as it is”. There will also be a moving padded cell, a de-normalisation programme, and performance art by Bobby Baker featuring seven adults dressed as frozen peas.

I have to say the adults dressed as frozen peas actually sounds  interesting!

It certainly seems like there could be a lot of fun to be had on the day.

Bonkersfest is organised by Creative Routes who say

This year’s theme of ‘De-normalisation’ sets the physical staging of the festival into zones of perceived ‘normality’ which get madder, sillier and more intense as they go! Festival-goers will experiences their own understanding of the mad reality via a sensory, colourful kaleidoscope of environment, image and sound. In addition to live art and visual installations, BF08 will host the Big Top outdoor music stage and the Red Star will host The Muses Café, a mad programme of theatre, poetry and performance.

The theme being ‘de-normalisation’ makes you challenge what you regard as normal.

I  like having assumptions challenged – and I think that a new way of communicating and distributing information has been borne with the growth of ‘new media’ sources.

Anyone can start writing and an audience can and does follow. Self-expression and creativity are, I think things that can often promote positive mental health for those both for those who have diagnoses and those who don’t.

I’ve always felt that definitions and diagnoses can sometimes be about thin lines drawn arbitrarily in the sand on the basis of risk.

Eccentricity has a general acceptance in our culture but when it becomes ‘madness’ it becomes unacceptable? Society makes decisions about where the lines are drawn sometimes. What is an acceptable idiosyncrasy and what is risky behaviour?

There’s no answer really. Sometimes the side of the line on which we stand depends on who the person is that is judging and where there own experiences, prejudices and attitudes have taken them.. but sometimes it is not.

To be honest, I’d never really thought about equating sanity with normality. I think everyone experiences differing mental states to some extent through their own lives but society – or rather Western societies like to classify.

You are one thing – or the other

You are good – or bad

You are sane – or insane

You are black – or white

An optimist or a pessimist.

You are normal – or unusual.

Image via Wikipedia

Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Self-expression but also self-definition are the keys to maintaining identity and the peak of self-actualisation at the tip of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The difficulties come though if people start to either self-diagnose or associate mental illness with being creative necessarily or being ‘cool’. It isn’t. Accepting what you are is one thing but trying to ‘fit in’ is something different.

12 thoughts on “Normality?

  1. wow, what a fantastic post and the links were great too. It’s a strange idea, normality isn’t it – the idea that we should all be the same more or less with different accessories of self – rather than just be ourselves, whatever that may be. Guess we are all defined by others by lines in the sand.
    I also loved the suggested link between self-actualization and fulfilment in the work place in the wiki article.

  2. Sane = Normal? Maybe by some definitions. I agree with you – most of us could probably fit the definition of “insane” at some point in our lives. Those of us who are lucky can transition out of it with some effort. The not-so-lucky are stuck with it every day.

  3. I definitely need to look at the Maslow theory more, Chuckles – it just came to me randomly as I was writing and I think there are some legs to it! And I think definitions and diagnostic criteria are very difficult if they are judged as either present or not-present. It is a constant continuum I think, LA.
    Anything that debunks a bit of the stigma can only be a good thing, Alicia, I absolutely agree.
    And thanks for dropping by, Hannah. The human peas really appealed to me!

  4. OK – I can work – which is supposed to be therapeutic – I hold down a responsible(?!!?) job (despite managements desire that I didn’t – actually they would rather I f”cked off and died or something) I have a family and I am as mad as a hatter (halluciantions etc blah blah blah) – I don’t think it is cool at all but I do think it is cool that all my mad friends can celebrate the madness – I am normally mad sometimes I am abnormally mad……..Does that all make sense…………No?………….What do you expect??? 🙂

  5. I kind of like this Bonkersfest idea! People are so afraid of mental illness, and anything that makes people who are mentally ill seem less scary has got to be a good thing.

  6. Always been interested in the creativity/madness link. I was talking with a friend who is a painter and she finds that times when she is fighting demons inspires her work. Personally, I have always found that the arrival of severe depression kills my creative drive and makes me so self-critical that I rubbish any artistic output I may produce regardless! Artists such as Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath are always cited as examples of the creative genius and whilst I have heard people say that medication would have stifled their imagination, well, maybe they would have been around longer to produce more masterpieces. Just a thought…

  7. I’m not sure that the link between creativity and madness is necessarily there – and perhaps stressing it romanticises mental illness. I think stigmas and fears do need to be broken down though – and everyone has a right to define their own identity – and if that includes mental health or otherwise, well, good for you!
    And thanks for dropping by, all! It’s been a long day, and I’m beginning to flag now!

  8. Creative arts have been used within the therapeutic arena for years, whilst those suffering from mental distress aren’t necessarily more capable of being creative, creative arts can become the way in which one is encouraged to communicate when verbalising is simply too much.
    Everyone is capable of banging a drum and, depending upon the music therapist, either encouraged to self interpret or for it to be interpreted for them. With arts therapy it’s often the sitting and the painting or cutting etc. that opens up verbal communication.
    It’s a common misconception that a service user needs to have a predisposition to the arts to access these services, anyone can.

    And your right, it’s not a link with mental health issues alone, I know a lottery funded scheme where isolated individuals can work with professional musicians to gain confidence and networking skills. They’ve recently been particularly successful with refugees.
    (Guess who has recently had creative arts lectures/training!).

    As for Maslow – I have to say I disagree with his insistence that you can’t address one without fulfilling the other below. I think there’s an argument that one can’t make meaningful relationships until a level of self esteem is achieved. Just my opinion though!

    Great post.

  9. Just had a thought – the work of Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist, is linked with layers – the idea being humans have layers of relationship – eg relationship to immediate family, to friends to the environment etc. I had a point to make here, but check the link it ties in somehow

  10. I agree pop, that you don’t need to have any particular talent in arts to enjoy them. You only have to see some of the ‘work’ I produced at my evening class to testify to that! I think we can all benefit from some kind of creative outlet – and that’s interesting about refugees.
    I think I’m going to reconsider Maslow separately, perhaps at the weekend when my brain is a little less foggy – and that’s an interesting link, Chuckle. I’d never heard of Hundertwasser (but that is a great name he has!).

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