Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Just Wanna Be Normal

Who here has not wished to be normal (again)?  My patients often have a goal to have their life get back to normal.  I ask them what 'normal' is, and they usually say "You know, like it was before."  Sometimes life can get back to what it was 'before', but usually not.  I went to the funeral of a friend yesterday.  He and his wife met in their teens, and had been married over 40 years.  Yesterday, his wife was wishing desperately that life would go back to 'normal', you know, 'before'.
Life is a series of plateaus, separated by transitions.  At each transition a new 'normal' emerges, and we either accept and adjust to it or we don't, but we can never go back to a previous 'normal'.  Some transitions are planned, like weddings and graduations, some are unplanned, like funerals.  Some are good, like babies and new jobs, some are not so good, like illness.  Some are major and some are minor, some are sudden and some are gradual.
So what is 'normal'?  According to dictionary.com, there are 2 definitions that fit this discussion:
  1. Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm,standard, pattern, level, or type; typical.
  2.  Functioning or occurring in a natural way; lacking observable abnormalities or deficiencies.
    The first definition fits what I described as the plateaus between the transitions: where life is fairly consistent for a time.  The second definition I find very intriguing.  On the one hand, those of us living with chronic illness or pain would not be considered normal, because we have 'deficiencies'.  On the other hand, since most of us have invisible illnesses, we are normal, because we 'lack observable abnormalities'.  (At least, our 'abnormalities' are not observable to other people.)
    I remember before my husband and I got married (we had our 14th anniversary two weeks ago) an incident that had me wondering what normal was.  I sat on his lap sometimes, and he never seemed to mind.  He sat on my lap sometimes, and I always got pain in my thighs much sharper and stronger than I would expect.  This was 9 years before being diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome and Fibromyalgia, and though I had had other pain issues before, I had not yet figured out any pattern or connections.  I wondered if this pain was normal, and I was just being a wimp.  I asked my husband, and it turns out, he didn't have the pain in his thighs like I had.  Hmmm...
    This pain, though not 'normal' as in typical for human beings, was 'normal' as in typical for my body.  There is no 'normal' that we can aspire to.  Each of us has our own 'normal', and it is subject to change as we age.  If we fight that 'normal', we stay stuck in a past that no longer fits.  We busy ourselves with waiting for something that will never come.  We miss out on the delights of everyday living, we focus on the struggles and not the triumphs.   I could either accept and adjust to having pain, or I could cry, complain, rant about the unfairness, and refuse to accept that this was my reality.  I did a combination.  I cried, and mourned the loss of ease with which my body used to function.  Sometimes I complain, though briefly.   
     I would rather not have this pain, but in order to live my life, I have had to accept that having pain is my 'normal'.  I am less tense when I do not fight against the pain,which, ironically, eases the pain some.  I adjust by turning down the volume of the pain with medication, exercise, a fine balance of pampering and pushing myself, and many other coping techniques, some of which I have written about in this blog, others I have not.  By accepting that some level of pain is my 'normal', I can live in the here and now, and make the best of each day. 

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