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Adjusting My Goals Based on My New Normal With Illness

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I have been in physical therapy for years. Recently I have gotten a new therapist who I really like, but this Monday he asked me a question and I have been thinking about the answer I gave and what it means ever since.

He asked me what were my ultimate goals for therapy? Without thinking I answered that I want to be normal again.

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Now, I’ve been sick for a while and every day I am in some type of pain. I use a cane and a wheelchair to get around. Does being normal again mean no cane or wheelchair, no more illness? Or does being normal mean less pain? I guess I don’t really know. Which, if you know me, you know I don’t like not having the answers to things!

After thinking about it now for a couple of days I have concluded that I would not know what normal felt like even if it slapped me in the face. When not only your physical chemistry is changed but your mentality and entire way of being is altered, you can lose sense of what normal is or was and could be. Some days I hope to be able to feel something, anything other than the pain, but it’s not always like that.

My normal used to be wake up, go to work, go to class, go to my second job and if there were enough hours in the day, go on a date with my man. In this normal now, I can’t maintain that schedule, remember enough to keep good grades in class or drive. It’s wild – I think of my life the way they talk about eras in history books. You know, Before Christ and After Christ. The only difference is mine is Before Illness and After Illness.

For me, the best way to honestly answer my PT’s question that began the whole thought is to figure out what my new normal is. What normal is for me in this After Illness era. My goals need to be whatever I can do to be the healthiest, happiest version of myself that my body physically allows me to be. Continue increasing my endurance so I can walk further distances without exhaustion. Work on standing longer so I can take a shower by myself for a change. Keep working on my balance so I do not have to walk with the cane, even if it’s only sometimes. Learn how to manage my pain so all around I can do more.

The takeaway from this for me has translated to more than just what I need to be doing in therapy. I’ve learned that when you don’t know how to answer a question, take a breath and self-evaluate. Figure out what your normal is and live in it. For better or for worse, that is your new normal and in our case with chronic illnesses the new normal might be painful but it’s yours. Bear that cross, whatever it may be, with a smile on your face and you will get through to the end.

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Thinkstock photo via Jupiterimages, Brand X Pictures.

Originally published: October 6, 2017
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