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Normal - To Be or Not to Be



Normal – To Be or Not to Be


When I first entered the outpatient rehab hospital after my stroke, during the initial interview process, I was asked about what my goals were for rehab. I recall saying first that I wanted to walk again, and then adding that I’d like my left arm to work. My daughter was there with me, and she later reminded me that the first thing I said was simply “to be normal.” Nearly seven months later, this is a concept with which I still struggle. I have heard it often, but resist the term “new normal.”


There is a t-shirt declaring “Normal is Boring.” Though I understand the sentiment, I am still hoping to be just plain old normal. Normal is sometimes said to be doing that which everyone else does; yet how does that relate to slavery or the holocaust for example? Does normal mean free from discomfort? Aren’t pain, guilt, sadness, anxiety, doubt, often normal in terms of everyday life? And at what point do such adaptations become a new normal? The term “new normal” is applied to slower economic growth, altered financial circumstances, climate change or the current political environment - and to life after stroke. Why do I still just want to be normal, despite the negative connotations? Why am I reluctant to accept being a “new me” living a “new normal?”


I have always been cursed/blessed with exceptionally light blonde hair. As a child, people would frequently comment on it. A common remark was “Now there’s a real towhead” which of course I heard as “toe-head” and didn’t like it at all. I can remember trying to stuff my hair under a hat so I could be left alone. I was asked if I was albino or why I wore white tights in the summer. Some people would say things such as “Don’t you get too proud because when you get older it’ll turn brown and you’ll look like everyone else.” I couldn’t wait for my head to no longer look like a toe and just be normal! But my hair never darkened very much, and though I remember looking at packages of brown hair dye, I eventually accepted being a little different and learned I was a towhead and not a toe-head. These days, as I age, I can now tell people that I am simply “going blonder!” I guess I could say that I accepted being different while still being normal.


To accept a “new normal” feels somewhat like giving up on my old plain normal life. It was a life I loved and had worked hard to obtain – early retirement, a small but beautiful new home, frequent travels, contributing to my community, caring for a grandchild. But however I label it, life has changed. Travels these days consist primarily of trips three times per week, 45 minutes each way, to therapy appointments. My volunteer work has been limited to a few things I can do from home. Though I refuse to accept this as being permanent, for now this is the way it is. Okay, and this hurts me to say - I have found a new normal. Ouch. But as I sit here typing this, challenged by trying to get the left fingers to actually find the desired keys now and then, I am able to look out the window at the lake which is now nearly free of ice. Any day now the loons will return. There are crocuses breaking through the ground; the chickadees are singing their spring song and the male goldfinches are beginning to turn yellow. Three adult bald eagles have been spotted nearby. Trout season opens in a few weeks and the lake will again come to life. This summer our second grandchild will be born. We will visit our daughter in Montana and at least go for short walks in nearby Glacier National Park. This is what I love, what sustains me and makes me me. It is why I don’t want to find a “new me.” I don’t want to now be “that lady who had a stroke.” I just want to be the same old Carol with the ridiculously blonde hair, who can spend hours watching the birds and the lake. And who will sometimes still cry and swear and say something inappropriate and feel sorry for herself. And who will most likely, at least once this summer, manage to tip over the kayak. I will be in the kayak, though, wearing a life jacket and staying in shallow water. That will be a new normal. For now.


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Hey carol I can so relate and understand what u r saying I went through similar trouble accepting my new normal hell I was perfectly happy with my old life loved my job friends had great family I did not ask for this abrupt change in life used to hate psychologist who once told me life wil be different after stroke she forgot to say not good or bad it will b just are thrown this curveball in life and only choice u have is how will u respond to it I strongly feel happiness is a choice and just because how u accomplish certain things in life does not diminish its worth. So for me I feel life is more meaningful and won't take a single thing for granted anymore. You have to make best lemonade possible out of lemons life gave u Asha

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Carol I was a caregiver not a survivor but I understand dealing with change.  I am a widow, being married was my "old normal" being a widow is my "new normal", my life will never change back to the way it was.  I know this is a bad analogy and nothing like what you are going through, but I also know change is inevitable and somehow we have to work our way towards acceptance whatever the cause of the challenge is.

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Carol, I think when someone has something happen to change their 'path', no matter what, they would have to be crazy to not want to be like they used to be.    It took us 8 years to finally have a child, and when he was 9 years old (1987), I became very ill and stayed that way until around 2008, when I had a miraculous improvement in my health.    I missed nearly everything.   (Please people, don't try to make me feel like I didn't, it's an insult to my intelligence, and only makes me mad)    Anyway, point is, I could be really mad about it, but on the other hand, many parents simply die or are killed and miss 100% of the rest of their kids life forever, they don't come back.    Several of young son's friends lost parents... forever.    So, you may be wondering how this ties in... it's in keeping a larger view.   Of not putting a magnifying glass on what you CAN'T do, but opening out the lens, like I see you are doing (crocuses, lake, etc).    What do you have left that the dead people have lost forever.     Bob is profoundly handicapped.   Lost 60% of his vision, right arm & leg, all bathroom controls, aphasia, sequencing problems, can't work the remote control we've had for 20 years, can't get out of bed or in by himself.   I change him, dress him, shower & shampoo him.   He can't GET one thing for himself, not a glass of water.    But he can eat the food I cut and place in front of him... I just have to cue him to drink, so he doesn't throw up in his plate again, from all food and no fluid going down.    


OK!    So what's the point of all this?   Everyday I thank God for my husband, and if my health hadn't improved 2 years before his stroke, I wouldn't be able to be his 24/7 sole caregiver, as I couldn't get out of bed before.    This man used to travel extensively around the world to teach 6 Sigma and Lean Manufacturing.   When he flew into a country, people from other countries would fly in, just to  hear him.   He's biked and ran marathons, he's done zip lines and climbed the famous bridge in Australia, with a sprained ankle from hiking the day before.   (he always did stuff like that on the week end when he was traveling somewhere)    Well the biking and marathons were at home - he would go on pedal bike rides and pedal 60-100 miles a day).  


So what's the point of all this?    He did all this, and now TO MANY he is one step up from a vegetable.    Not to us.     Everyday, we realize there are 1000s of people who would gladly trade places with him, if only THEY could hear and see their loved ones, the blue sky, the bird song, taste the lasagna.   We laugh everyday, we don't need to look at what we can't do, we already know it, we look at what we can do, and are truly thankful for every little thing, each thing meaning so much more than people grasp.   Our neighbor who had a minor stroke, went suicidal, because he couldn't get his fingers to make the right chord on his guitar.   His explanation was, 'you don't understand, that's who I am, that's what I do!'     No... neighbor, YOU don't understand, Bob used to be the guy who traveled around the world, people flew in just to hear him talk.  Bob used to be the big hiker and biker and marathoner.   Let's get real now.   Bob used to take his own shower, use the toilet, wipe himself, get a drink of water, be able to see so he didn't hit door jams and be a fall risk.   Walk without a gait belt and me dog every step like his shadow.   (I'm so thankful he can now walk the short distance from room to room, saves so much effort.)   For those who came here and expressed pity to him, we go sick of it and decided we wouldn't put up with it.    I now tell them, "my husband has been to places and seen things and done things, you never will.   Don't feel sorry for him, feel sorry for yourself!    and we both smile to show we mean it!     The human spirit WILL triumph, if one doesn't define themselves by what they CAN'T do.    I'm glad to see you are taking the high road on that.    


Do we wish he hadn't had a stroke?   Heck yea!   But what else might have happened?  What about the people who had not stroked, -children up and out, bought new house and motorcycle, ready to live life large.... and both hubby and wife killed on that motorcycle? Their daughter dated the son of friends of ours.    What about the couple who were both killed on vacation, watching the sun set?(neighbors of ours, parents to son's friend)     We don't actually know that we'd both be alive if he HADN'T stroked, is the irony here!    For all we know, it's the only reason we are still here.    Hey, as I said, we laugh everyday.    The things he did, we are so proud of them, of everything he did and they are wonderful memories and accomplishments that no one can take away... unless we LET them with their pity.   We don't pity ourselves and we don't let them do it - and we live a happy life of 'the glass is half full'.   Look forward, you are not done yet!

     I was going to write a small blog on 'the new normal' but saw your entry and thought I wouldn't.   But now I think I'll go ahead and do it, for my own record.    Later though, have to get hubby up and dressed, our new day is starting!   :)

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Carol:  Oh my goodness I cannot tell you how many times the phrase "New Normal" has been put out there to my husband.  They will ask my husband what does he want to get out of his therapy, or where does he see himself going.  He always says, "I just want to be normal." We then here the things will be different...what you once knew as normal will be a "New Normal."  "Why do they ask?" I always think.  I mean really, why do they ask?  Thankfully, my husband has a positive outlook.  He wakes up with excitement about his day.  He loves going to therapy.  He was always that way before his in some respect...he is still "Normal" only it is his mindset not his physical self.  Lastly, I love the view out your window.  Certainly, that is far beyond normal...

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