Finding a New Normal

drawing of dog sleeping on couch

Since I injured my shoulder, I have been fighting tooth and nail to get back to my old normal self. She rode her fat bike through the snow. She went cross country skiing. She worked out at the gym running and lifting weights.

I’ve been hugely frustrated with the slowness of my recovery and the trapped feeling of not being able to do my old activities this winter — especially when we FINALLY have some awesome snow to go play in.

So imagine how I felt when this happened…

The day after I rescued Latte from our backyard pond, I became very ill with what I believe was the flu. I didn’t eat all day, but instead slept. The following day, I got out of bed to take a shower. I figured the heat and steam would feel good. And they did. But while I was bent over, wiping down the shower tiles, I started coughing, which sent a shooting pain through my lower back.

I gingerly stepped out of the shower, got dressed, and sat down with an ice pack on my lower back, followed by a heating pad. While sitting with my heating pad watching way too much Netflix, I sneezed. That sent a pain like a bazillion knives stabbing into my back muscles. I screamed some combination of bloody murder, feck it, gosh darn, shit, boogers and hells bells!!!

I was scared to death that any coughing or sneezing would continue this experience. But I was sick! I was going to cough and blow my nose.

What I wasn’t going to do was sleep. Every move hurt. My back muscles appeared to be doing the jitterbug. Plus, phlegm gunk, collected in my throat, which equaled choking, which kicked in the body’s attempt to survive — coughing. 

So that first night after hurting my back, I got up, thinking some hot ginger and lemon tea and ten minutes with a heating pad would be soothing. I turned on the heating pad to let it warm. Peeled and grated ginger. Boiled the ginger, then simmered it for 15 minutes in a quart of water. While the ginger simmered, I unloaded the dishwasher, wiped down the counters and squeezed a couple lemons. Strained out the ginger and mixed the water with the lemon juice along with some honey for sweetness. Then I sat down with my buddy the heating pad to sip a mug of the brew. The ginger helped clear my sinuses, while the honeyed lemon soothed my throat, which is what I’d been hoping for.

Why all the detail of what I did? Do you even believe after reading that paragraph that my back was hurt? Probably not. And there lies my problem. I try not to waste one second, no matter how injured or sick or both that I am. This is also why I forget that I have something reheating on the stove as I’ve multi-tasked and started a load of laundry. Certainly that won’t distract me for too long…  I may (or may not) be extreme, but can any of you relate?

New Normal: Do One Thing at a Time

So while the last four months have been one “Whoa! Stop, Maery” painful event after another, I do appreciate what it is teaching me. No really. Here was another educational moment…

I went downstairs to fetch a firm camping pad to put on the couch, which was too soft for my back. I stacked two pillows to elevate my pad and counteract the gunk collection issue. I arranged all my necessities on the coffee table — cough drops, quart Ball jar of water, tissues, phone and earbuds (in case I needed to play soothing jungle noises to drift off to sleep). I also took an ibuprofen. I double-checked my survival supplies before slowly easing myself into a lying position.

When I laid down, every tight muscle in my back begged for mercy, while I silently chanted, “Breathe into it, Maery. It’s going to be okay. This is temporary. People have survived worse than this. You can handle this. Relax.” 

I could feel the tickle starting. The throat panic. MUST COUGH!

“No. Breathe into it. Swallow. Relax. Breathe.”

I slept for an hour. Woke up because of a muscle twitching, higher up in a completely new location. I snorted-laughed as I detected “new” pain. The whole situation was getting to be too ridiculous. Not to mention, I was reaching a point of sleep deprivation delirium. Just ask Steve. He has to keep an eye on me.

New Normal: I have tools for self comfort. I remind myself the pain is temporary and I can handle it. 

I also realized that it’s a waste of my limited energy to be in such a hurry to get completely back to normal from my injured shoulder. It really doesn’t matter how long it takes. 

At the rate I’m going, there are going to be roadblocks going forward beyond the shoulder. It could actually become the least of my problems. 

I’m not likely to ever return back to my old normal self. I have a new normal today, which may not be my normal tomorrow. It’s all fluid. The best thing I can do is celebrate every step of my day that is still possible. 

I can still walk. Write. Read. Draw. Cook for myself. Play fetch with the dogs. Feed the dogs. Let the dogs out.

You get the picture. 

sketches of dogs

New Normal: Find pleasure in every little thing I’m able to do

Wow! I can be in pain and still find happiness in little things. How great is that?! Previously I would have felt nothing but loss…

And that’s what’s super weird — rather than sink further and further into despair, which is my go-to-mode, I feel as though I’ve been set free. I’m happy I’ve found a way to comfort myself through pain. That I’m thinking of suffering as a temporary state that I will come out of or find a way to manage rather than something I can’t possibly live with.

I hope I can continue with my current line of thinking, even if things get worse.

Because there is still that nagging voice in my head that says I should be worried that my lack of activity is going to worsen my osteoporosis. “Maery, how can you build bone when you are sitting or laying down so much? Huh?! Your bones are doomed!!!”

Yes that is a concern, but I can’t do anything about it except put my focus on my nutrition for now. I believe I’ll get back to a more active form of exercise and movement eventually. I’ve hurt my back before, and it usually only keeps me down for a week. Given the cough re-irritating the situation daily, I expect it will take longer. But I see no reason that it would last FOREVER. 

New Normal: Do what you can do today.

Beyond the normal planning one has to do for future appointments or for completing a task, I try to remain completely in my “today.” I don’t want to compare today to the past or have my actions focused on creating and controlling a different future.

It’s a much happier way to spend a day.  

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  1. Giiiiiirrrrrrlllllll…. Omg– but wow! What a GREAT attitude and set of coping skills you are developing. I hope to follow your good example as I encounter my own life challenges. 🙂 Heal well. 🙂 (Notice I did not say fast?) 😉

    1. Thanks Sue. I hope such challenges are far off for you. I love seeing the work you are doing paving the way for Monticello to become an artistic community. It so cool!

  2. Oh gosh Maery…I can relate so much to this. Twice I’ve started an exercise program and either before I got started or shortly into it I injure myself. It’s all maddening when you want so badly to get your body in better shape. But I love your attitude and will certainly take lessons from your experience! Thank you!

    1. Hi Robin. I hope you are doing well in your own quest. But boy, oh boy, it IS frustrating! And because of that, it made sense to stop trying so hard. I’m now doing 1 pound weights with my bad shoulder and 3-5 pound weights with my good arm in a way that doesn’t strain my back. It may not feel like enough but it has to be. Maybe baby steps will prevent further injuries.

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