Normal is Bullshit

I often hear people talk of getting back to normal. It’s a pretty common concept used to express our desire to fall back into the patterns we are comfortable in. What we are used to. After a busy holiday season, a wedding, a big project at work that takes up a lot of your time are all things that are considered “not normal”.

It’s not that the busy holiday season, or the wedding we planned wasn’t fun or exciting or enjoyable, it’s just that it isn’t what we are used to. In fact, the very definition of the word “normal” is ‘conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected.’ So when we talk about “getting back to normal” we are simply saying that we wish to go back to the way we are used to living. Or, to a more extreme, the way society says life should be. A conforming of sorts to the standard way the people around you live.

Consider a few things that are “normal”. Eating French fries with ketchup, or wearing leggings with boots (for us girls anyway). These things are “normal” because everyone around us is doing it, because we are always doing it. Until one day someone comes along and says “Hey, you should try your fries in this chipotle ranch dip.” (Seriously, you should. It’s delicious). First you make a face because-gross, but then you try it and angels drop from the heavens because it’s now your favorite thing.

No more ketchup for you.

Nope.

Now it’s chipotle ranch dip. It’s your new normal French fry favorite.

What about those leggings with boots? Who knew they would look so cute with flip flops or ballet flats? But they do, and you love it! Bam! New normal for you is any one of the three.

Do you see where I am going with this?

In the chronic illness/pain community the idea of returning to a normal life is the dream. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s everything we hope for when we walk into that first appointment, and it’s what we hold on to as we move from surgery to surgery. Medication to medication. It’s the metaphorical carrot in front of the horse.

Let me let you in on a very well-kept secret: normal is bullshit.

Total and complete, 100% certified B.S.

Bullshit.

Alright, I’m done swearing now. Promise….maybe. I’ve had a lot of caffeine today. Back to my point. Notice that the definition of normal doesn’t say anything about being better than the alternative. Nothing in the definition of normal indicates that life lived in a different, less typical way is any less fulfilling. Any less rewarding.

It’s easy to look at the ways our lives have changed since the pain set in, since the sick took over. I often hear it said that this pain ruins everything. I disagree. It changes everything, but it’s not ruined. It’s different, it’s not what we are used to, it certainly isn’t “normal” when it first finds us, but eventually it is.

I can’t help but go back to the quote I reflected on in an earlier post from the Rest Ministries. “At some point after diagnosis, in our cycle of grief, we stop looking for a cure and begin to advocate being ‘as well as possible’ –for as long as possible. It stops being about delaying life until we are cured, but enjoying the moment.”  The gold in this is that we cannot continue to wait for our lives to return to “normal”, for the pain to be gone before we start living again. The mindset that everything is ruined because we can no longer do what we once did is ridiculous, and more importantly it sets us up to fail. Miserably.

I used to clean the whole house myself once a week when everyone was gone at work and school. Then as the kids got older I gave them some jobs to do but I still did the majority of the work. I enjoy a clean house, and with the right album blaring I don’t mind working up a sweat while cleaning. Since I was old enough to understand what cleaning was I have enjoyed this ritual. It was normal for me to do for 12 or so years.

5 years, 10 procedures and countless scans and medications later this pain isn’t going anywhere, and so my typical routine of cleaning the house has become something I no longer choose to do. The pain is just not worth it to me. And so I have come accustomed to my new normal; which is the kids doing the heavy lifting on the cleaning, and I do what I can. Sometimes the house is messier than I would like, honestly, most of the time, but it’s not hurting anyone. This new normal isn’t any less acceptable than the old one. It’s just different.

Everyone has at least one story like this. One element of life that was one way, but is now another. It’s their own normal. I’d love to see those of us in pain embrace our new normal, and let go of the way our lives used to be. Stop looking back at times before you had pain and longing for those moments, because you lose the ones you have right now when you do that. It’s okay to accept that this is your life, and damnit you are going to live it to the fullest. Maybe you won’t be hiking up Mt. Everest any time soon but that doesn’t mean you can’t conquer a new goal.

I’m not saying you should give up your fight for a cure to your pain and illness, never quit fighting. But cut yourself a break because who you are now, and what you’re doing is amazing. It’s ­your life, who is to say what’s normal better than you? You’re not resigning or giving in; you’re adjusting and creating a new normal and that shows incredible strength.

And besides, normal is bullshit.

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