It occurred to me the other day that I have two "normal" modes in my life: pain and pain-free. Sometimes I switch between them so easily that I almost forget how different it was in the other.
Due to complicated health issues, I've been left without my regular arthritis meds for several weeks now, and it's begun to take its toll on me. I'm waiting for my doctor to get back to me authorizing a transition medication while I wait for financial assistance on my regular stuff to be finalized, but the past couple days I've become increasingly aware that I have subtly shifted gears in my life into "pain normal."
When I'm in pain-free normal, I can, for the most part, pretty much do what I want, go where I want, eat what I want, wear what I want. My daily activities are full of choices where I make my decisions based on what I want.
Pain normal, however, is different. Pain normal is all about survival, and that gets complicated.
This means I suddenly start thinking about the activities I may not be able to do on my own to get ready in the morning, and I worry about what I will do if I have to leave before Jacob gets home on a day when I cannot brush my own hair.
It means I find myself almost automatically adjusting to "arthritis driving," where I hold the wheel lightly with one hand and stick the other through the hole in the steering wheel to help drive with my forearm. And then I switch hands so that neither hand has to grip onto anything for long.
It means I am consciously, constantly aware of all the time I spend on my feet, and much of that time is spent eyeing the nearest chair and calculating when I can sit again, because the more I sit now, the more likely it is that I'll be able to walk tomorrow. At the same time, I'm keeping an eye on the people around me who may start seeing me as lazy if I sit too often.
It means I start planning ahead what food I buy to eat for solo meals. I can't choose anything that goes in the oven, because baking sheets are tough to hold. I can't choose anything I have to cut with a fork and knife. I can't choose anything that I have to exert force to open.
It means I have to get very tough with Puppy again and start enforcing commands like, "Move" and "Get off," because if she climbs on me or sits on an arthritic limb, I may not even be able to remove someone as tiny as her.
It means I don't reach out for my husband's hand while we're walking together unless I've calculated we're at the just-right angle to each other, otherwise it inadvertently gets pulled it in a painful direction.
It means I put away the pants with two sets of buttons and allow myself extra time to get dressed into the ones with even one button.
It means every time I'm in conversation with anyone, at least a quarter of my mind is preoccupied with the pain itself and trying to find little ways I could shift or move that might lessen the pain in that moment. Maybe if I took my weight off my right foot. Maybe if I leaned on my other arm. Maybe if I sat up straighter or adjusted my shirt or lightly massaged my wrist.
There are so many extra steps here that have simply become part of my new normal. It's exhausting, but it wasn't until almost three days into it that I realized why I was exhausted. It was because all my mental energy was going into making these extra decisions, even before the pain has gotten quite that bad yet. But my mind has prepared for pain, and so it is bracing itself and changing its patterns and changing its routine.
Hopefully I'll get back on the necessary medication and return to pain-free normal soon, and all this will fade into the background again. But in the meantime this is the normal I'm living in. Living with chronic pain is far from fun, and I'm one of the lucky ones in that I was accurately diagnosed and have found effective treatment that I will soon be able to afford. Not everyone gets to be in my boat. Even when I've returned to pain-free normal, I want to make sure I remember what life was like in pain normal, so that any time I see someone in a similar situation, I can have a deeper empathy and compassion than before.