Weird

All my life, people have been calling me weird, so many that I have at last accepted that they are probably right.
“Weird” is a statistical label; people are weird if they’re out there on the extreme of some behavioural dimension … be free, be yourself, indeed rejoice in your weirdness. And if you don’t think that you’re weird, please don’t judge anyone else.

All my life, people have been calling me weird, so many that I have at last accepted that they are probably right.

“Weird” is a statistical label; people are weird if they’re out there on the extreme of some behavioural dimension, or more likely dimensions. A dictionary definition is:

“Very strange and unusual, unexpected, or not natural.”

That definition doesn’t capture the usually pejorative way in which “weird” is used as a label. Also, it’s not simply being extreme on any behavioural measure. You can be very clever, or very extravert, and I doubt anyone would call you weird. No, weirdness implies a special sort of unusualness. It’s thinking or behaving in some unusual way that catches the attention of most people and makes them want to pass some slightly negative judgement. Looking odd, having an unusual hobby that is considered esoteric (or “boring”, as though the activities of most people have some inherent meaning that makes them worthwhile), saying inappropriate things, or repeatedly breaking social norms, are all likely to get you called a weirdo.

Being weird obviously troubles many individuals because the internet is awash with worried weird people looking for reassurance. My favourite question is “Is being weird normal?” – to which the answer was, surprisingly, “yes”. There is apparently, no normal. But while no one might be exactly average, I don’t think that really lets me off the weird hook.

There are even apparently benefits to being weird. Weird people tend to be more creative. Many scientists and mathematicians are distinctly odd. This finding shouldn’t be too surprising because people who achieve great things must be very unusual in some way.

I think my weirdness is a consequence of my neurodivergence, one of those increasingly fashionable terms that I think does have some value.

Neurodivergent people think and behave in atypical ways, and go against social norms, because our brains are different, either through genetics or upbringing or most likely both.

I have previously listed all my psychological symptoms, and here is a recap: depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, general phonological disorder, and autistic spectrum disorder (not to mention noise sensitivity, task avoidance disorder and completion anxiety and completeness obsession). Is it likely I have all of these independently? Of course not. They all stem from an underlying brain that’s significantly different from normal; my brain is sufficiently different from others to warrant a label.

You can be neurodivergent without it being a problem for anyone. It’s only difficult if it causes you pain or distress: in my case the depression, anxiety, and occasionally OCD do. I hesitate about adding “or if it causes other people distress” because people are sometimes upset by the behaviour of another when it is questionable whether they should be. A psychopath might not suffer but can hurt others, but is the naked rambler recalling doing anyone any harm?
There are even some people who seem weird to me. There is a chap who wanders around town with no shoes on, whatever the weather. But doubtless he has his reasons, and it’s none of my business. The world would be a happier place if people stopped telling others what to do so much.

So to all you self-confessed weirdos and freaks out there, with the caveat about being or causing psychological or physical pain: be free, be yourself, indeed rejoice in your weirdness. And if you don’t think that you’re weird, please don’t judge anyone else.

Sometimes I almost feel sorry for all you neurotypicals out there.

Please visit my website at www.trevorharley.com for much more. I am Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Dundee, contact me on trevor.harley@mac.com.

Author: trevorharley

I am Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Dundee, Scotland. I am the author of several books, including the best selling texts "The psychology of language" (now in its fourth edition) and "Talking the talk: Language, psychology and science". I am currently also writing books on the science of consciousness and on the philosophy of science as applied to psychology (the latter with Richard Wilton), with both due to be published in 2017. Several other books are in the pipeline. My research interests are varied and I have published widely in some of the leading peer-reviewed psychology journals. My interests include language production, how we represent meaning, computer models of the mind, sleep and dreams, consciousness, mental illness, personality and motivation, the effects of brain damage on behaviour, and how the weather influences behaviour. I believe passionately that scientists, particularly those paid from the public purse, have a duty to explain what they do to that public. I also believe that we can reach a wide audience by the use of social media and new ways of explaining what we do. In my spare time I use stand-up comedy to talk about my research; a few years ago I appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe. One of the strangest things about being a comic is that I am often severely depressed (as well as anxious and obsessive). I have been on many types of medication, with varying degrees of success. When depressed I am always struck by how pointless everything seems: nothing seems worthwhile, and those things that I usually enjoy (playing the piano - even if not very well, looking at the natural world, reading, watching movies) no longer entice. My interest in things is a very accurate barometer of how well I am. I have realised that some mental illnesses, particularly severe mood disorders, are in part a loss of purpose and meaning in life. Becoming well involves recovering this purpose. I am also very keen to help remove the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. All of my life I have been puzzled by the question of what is the best way to spend my time. This blog is my search for answer to that question. In it I talk about my life, psychology, mental illness, purpose, living a better life, time management, existential despair, death (making me a death blogger I suppose), being creative, writing, and trying to write when depressed. I try and blog once a week or so; long silences usually mean I'm too depressed to write. For more information about me, see the home page of my website at www.trevorharley.com. I welcome comments on my blog, or if you prefer you can email me at trevor.harley@mac.com. You can follow me on Twitter at @trevharley.

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