The New Normal

Thinking SupermanHave you ever woken up one day with the feeling that you seem to have changed almost overnight, while the world around you continued to remain exactly the same?

Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy has been feeling this way recently. It’s a weird sensation, definitely – but it need not necessarily be a scary one. The idea of re-establishing my connections with the environment around me, with my body, and with my rheumatoid arthritis might be quite unsettling were it not for the knowledge that in the process, I have been breaking bad models and replacing them with good models.

But any change, whether for better or for worse, does take time to get used to. And to be brutally honest, my heart is still catching up to my head.

You see, just six weeks ago I was still in major denial about the effect that rheumatoid arthritis was having on my person and on my body (and, my mind). Sure, I could see it and feel it, but this did not always translate to clear thoughts of understanding. I did not take the time to stop and evaluate what was going on. Once again (I have been through this cycle multiple times), the thought of acceptance seemed to be the equivalent of throwing in the towel.

Instead, I continued to tell myself that if I stayed strong I could work through it. By default, this meant that I was telling myself that any worsening of my rheumatoid arthritis was a sign of weakness on my behalf. Looking back, these were not very healthy thoughts to be having while dealing with a progressive and chronic illness, but that is where I was.

I continued to go to power yoga five mornings a week, all the time ignoring that my joints seemed more inflamed after each session. I thought that if I “gave in” to my rheumatoid arthritis and took a few days off, that my illness would get worse. As long as I continued to do the routine exactly as I’ve always done it, then everything was okay.

Little did I know that I was going the exact opposite of what I thought – by pushing my body too far, I was actually causing harm. And by not allowing myself to take the break that I needed to heal, I was denying my reality and the presence of rheumatoid arthritis in my body.

But all of that has changed in the past month.

During the past four weeks, I have prioritized taking care of my mind and body – above everything else. Each day is filled with appointments. One day I am going to physical therapy. The next day I am going to my psychologist. The day after that I am back at physical therapy. During the day I am putting on my ulnar-deviation gloves. (I am eventually supposed to get to the point where I can wear them overnight, but I haven’t been able to wear them for more than an hour yet!)

When I am not doing something physical, I am trying to find activities to help heal my mind and spirit. I blog. (This started as and continues to be, one of my best coping mechanisms. For me, it’s like putting my personal thoughts down in a private diary – with the exception, of course, that I am making it public for all of you to read.) I practice mindfulness. I listen to meditation tapes. I read. I relax.

Through this process, I have begun to lead a life that is a much more day-to-day.  I have not been spending a lot of  time dwelling on the past, nor have I been peeking much into the future. There always seems to be something in the present that I needs to focus on. With this, I have been content.

However, a couple of days ago I looked back at my past month, and felt a little overwhelmed when I realized how much things have changed. I then projected this past month onto my future, and felt slightly depressed as I asked myself: “Is this my new normal? Days full of medical care, exercise both physical and mental, and never knowing what my ‘point of recovery’ might be?”

I bought myself back to the present, and in doing so, I was able to affirm to myself: My “new life” is working for me. And in the end, isn’t this all that counts, no matter how long it lasts?

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

7 Comments
7 comments
  1. Millicent says:

    Whenever I have had a challenge to deal with, I have found that it is best to stay in the moment. My son has done 3 tours in the middle east, & in order to get through that & retain my sanity, I lived day to day. By staying focused on what I was doing that moment, I could block out all the other thoughts & imaginings that drove me crazy. It sounds like you’re finding that this same theory works for you. We really only have today–tomorrow is a promise–so it makes sense to make today work & not dwell on what’s ahead.

  2. Laurie says:

    Hi RA guy…as usual, an excellent blog. I can totally relate to trying to find the balance between doing what you can do and pushing it too hard. On my days off at home I am “ok” and do what i can. I still work fulltime as an RN on nightshift in a smaller hospital. I only work in the nursery, so it’s not too physical, but by the end of the third night my knees are screaming from getting up and down out of my chair all night.
    After the third night, I sleep all day and then go to bed early my first night off…a totally wasted day. I have tried doing 2 nights, (still 6/pay period,) but that just gives me an extra wasted day. Wish I could cut down to part time, but I need the insurance and the $$$.
    I have decided that from now on, I am going to have a “me” hour every afternoon…even if it’s sitting out in the hot florida sun in my hottub (a misnomer…I have a warm tub), hotflashes, hot sun and hot water don’t mix well. I bought a floating chair so i can pretend I am in a pool, turn on my music to the “oldies” and float away. Nobody is allowed to come out in the yard unless there is blood or a fire. Now if only I can train the cats not to cry at the patio door while they watch me relax……..

  3. Jo-Ann says:

    I think that “normal” is highly over-rated. Life is about change, it helps us to appreciate what we have. I completely understand where you are at right now. But try not to project forward because no one knows where that will lead any of us. Energy is a valuable commodity spend it wisely on what you can control.;)

  4. Kim H. says:

    Honestly, I partly think we have society to blame for the degree to which we engage in forward thinking. We’ve been taught to strive for “The American Dream” (whatever that means for each of us) and to look toward the future.

    It’s difficult to teach yourself to live “in the moment.”

    But life really can only be lived in its dailyness.

  5. Kali says:

    I think that in some ways, a blog is a better coping tool than a private journal.

    In a blog, you can get support. Sure, it’s from relative strangers in the anonymity of the web…but still, getting that support, and knowing you have people who watch for your entries…that can be a huge boost.

    You also get community. Sometimes we just chat with you in your comments, after all – it’s not always support per se, but it’s being able to have conversations about what your illness does with people who get it.

    You get suggestions – sometimes it’s a different way to think, sometimes an aid that might help you.

    And finally…at some point, you start getting people willing to give you a little tough love when you’ve earned it. Hopefully, what that means is people who listen to what you’re saying you do and gently telling you when you’re being an idiot. Heaven knows, we all need someone willing to do that. And at least this idiot over here is more willing to listen to other people who’ve been there.

    I very much agree with what Kim is saying. We have to de-program ourselves from the idea of what strength, productivity, and moving forward mean, and re-write what those words mean in our lives.

  6. RA Guy says:

    Millicent, thanks for sharing your personal story. You are a very strong woman.

    Laurie, what a wonderful idea – a “me” hour every day. Say hi to the cats (I’m a dog person myself – have three.)

    Cathy, thanks for the kind comment.

    Jo-Ann, I agree. A therapist I went to a few years always corrected me whenever I used the word “normal”. In the end there really is no normal, no?

    Kim H., I couldn’t agree more.

    Kali, it couldn’t have been said any better – I posted your comment on the front page.

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