Sunday, December 27, 2015

Accepting the New Normal

Yesterday I woke up in a fantastic mood. I felt pretty good (you never feel terrific when you have chronic illnesses) and I couldn't wait to get the day started. I ended up doing a lot: I tackled the piles of paper that had stacked up in my office for the past 4 months, took my daughter shopping at the mall so she could spend her Christmas gift money, then went out to my brother and sister-in-law's to see my nephew who is nearly 4 months old and completely adorable.

By the time I got home, I was pretty tired and fighting a headache.

Fast forward to today: I woke up exhausted, am still exhausted, and my good mood is gone. My joints ache and I could cheerfully take a nap.

This has become the norm for me. When I have good days - like I did yesterday - I savor them and usually do more than I should. And why not? I felt great emotionally and wanted to enjoy it! But I usually pay for it the next day. This is beyond frustrating.

I could wallow in self-pity as I have done numerous times before. But I won't. Why? Because I've finally started to accept that this is my new normal. Believe me, that has been the single hardest thing to do with my chronic illnesses (I have rheumatoid arthritis and most recently, my doctor believes I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Coming to terms with this has almost been like going through the five stages of grief.

Denial: Just because I have a chronic disease doesn't mean I can't do everything I did before. I can! I can exercise just like before, lose weight just like before. This disease won't change my life at all. Sure, I'll have bad days, but they will be few and far between. Everything will be fine.

But as the months went by and I saw my former lifestyle disappearing before my eyes, I only double-downed on the anger and self-guilt:

Anger: What is wrong with you? You're lazy. You need to push yourself more. Why did you eat that extra cookie? Why didn't you go to the gym after work? You weren't feeling *that* bad. Why don't you have any self-control?

Bargaining: (Honestly, I didn't go through much bargaining. I didn't tell God that if he would only take this illness away from me, I would dedicate my life to *insert cause here*. )

Depression/Detachment: It doesn't matter. I'm going to be like this forever. I can eat what I want. I'll never lose weight. I don't need to go hang out with friends. Just leave me alone in my house. Don't smile or joke because then people will think you're feeling just fine even though you're just hiding the pain. I won't be able to work full-time much longer. Forget exercising. I'll just lay in this bed the rest of my life.

And finally we come to Acceptance. Yes, I'm sick. No, there is no cure. Yes, I may have to quit working full-time at some point in the future. But I'll deal with that when it comes. Yes, I have good days, but the bad days are more plentiful. That's ok. I need to be gentle with myself. Yes, I've gained weight. Yes, I've allowed myself to eat not-so-good-for-me food, but I can change that. I can start doing gentle exercises. I love to walk! I can rest when I need to without feeling guilty. I still have a fantastic, utterly wonderful life. I am blessed in so many ways that it's hard to count them all!

As I accept my new normal more and more, there's a small kernel of peace within me that continues to grow every day. Dealing with chronic illness isn't easy, but I can choose to deal with it in a way that won't make the whole situation worse. Will I always succeed in thinking positive? Most certainly not. But that's ok.

We as a society tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves: pressure to look thin and be fit and beautiful . I've fallen victim to this mentality more than once and I'm beyond tired of trying to live up to that ideal. I am more than what I look like on the outside. I am more.

And this crazy need to be happy and content all the time?  Well, life isn't like that. It never has been and it never will be. Life is a great big ball of joy and sorrow, and if you don't experience it all, you are not truly alive.

Why did I include this pic?
Because it makes me happy.
That's all the reason I need. :)
I realize that my blog has sort of turned into a place where I share my thoughts on this new normal, but that's ok. My blog has evolved with my life and I rather like that. My health has been a huge, huge issue for me for the past year, and writing about it is the one way I deal with it. That I choose to share it with the world is a decision I made a long time ago. Why? Because if I can help one person who is struggling with the same issue, if I can make them nod their head and think, She gets it!, and make that person not feel alone, then that is all the motivation I need to share my story.

In the coming weeks and months, I hope to start sharing more how I am learning to manage this new normal. I want to embark on a year of self-love instead of self-hate. I want to be able to eat good food and enjoy a treat without feeling guilty. I want to be able to take a nap when I need to without thinking, You should be doing something else, something productive. I want to be able to start a gentle exercise program that works for me and makes me feel good - and not worry about if I'm not working hard enough or burning enough calories or pushing myself to my physical limits. Those days are over.

And I want to share how I'm going to start putting my energy toward the things that really matter to me: my writing, my family, and my study of World War II history.

I hope you'll stop by from time to time and join me on this journey.


  1. You may not have thought this while you were writing it, Melissa, but this post was so inspirational. I think all of us, at some point in our lives, have to accept that everything has gone completely topsy-turvy from what we'd planned, expected, or gotten used to--and that this isn't something we can overcome so much as something we need to get used to.
    The good news, of course, is that this lifetime, as I think Madeleine L'Engle said, is the boat, not the destination. And you are handling its suffering with the fortitude of the saints--and in their company.
    I'm praying for you.

    1. Oh, Faith, thank you so much. Your comment meant the world to me. :)

  2. I love these photos!
    I am so sorry you are dealing with this horrible invisible illness. I wish you a blessed, bright and healthy New Year and words!

    1. Thank you so much, Doreen! One day at a time. :)


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