In my experience most people battling chronic illness and disability aren’t super fans of the word “normal” largely because it has that implicit abnormal attached to it. And let’s face it we tend to fall into that second category if we’re basing this on how our bodies and immune systems are “supposed to” function. For quite some time I’ve fallen into that abnormal category, with regard to how I have to go about living my daily life to manage my illness and make it from one day to the next in one piece. A day in the life of me, Alex, does not in anyway resemble what you would picture if I said “typical somewhat quirky adventurous 27 year old in a major US city.” I’ve been forced into a different kind of lifestyle dictated by my health. This is just my new normal, or what my doctors call a “baseline.” Which is a nice way of saying the level of shittiness you can tolerate and your docs are OK with you dealing with day to day. Over the past 15 years that level has changed drastically, and not in a good way.
It’s when I start to wax nostalgic on the days of only taking like three medications, or like just having one doctor that I really think about how much has changed and how much I just now accept as “normal.” That’s where the fear and anxiety start to come in to play. Have I mentioned how good they are for my other medical conditions? Suuuuper beneficial.
Recently I’ve undergone some spinal treatments (nerve ablations for ya nerds) to relieve some nerve pain in my neck. I have had herniated discs for years that just royally fucked the situation completely and the surrounding nerves are in almost constant spasm as a result. It feels WONDERFUL. So, these treatments essentially burn up some of the key nerves causing the issue in the spinal joints, no nerves, no pain? That’s the idea. My doc was pretty confident about it’s potential given how debilitating my neck/back pain has gotten in the last year or two. So here I am a couple weeks out from the procedure on the right side and a few hours out on the left, and yes I’ve noticed some difference with the pain stemming from the joint. However, the trauma to the skin, muscle tissue, and other nerves from the procedure has left me with some fall out thanks to my small fiber neuropathy, fibromyalgia and MCAS. Part of me wants so badly to just think ok it’s healing, it’s recovering, “you’ll experience some increased pain for 5-6 weeks, that’s totally normal” this is temporary, this is “NORMAL” but another part of me has this sinking feeling it may not be, because spoiler alert when was the last time anything ever was normal. I’m thinking to myself, wanting to blurt out, “be honest with me Dr. Pablo*, is what is going to be normal for me or normal for the lady who was in pre-op ahead of me who said her pain was a 0 and a 2 with rigorous movement, and had no other medical issues, because yes I was eavesdropping, which I know I shouldn’t but I’m the odd man out here, because let us remember I’m the person who’s body doesn’t even heal properly in the first place.” But of course, I did not say that to Dr. Pablo, because 1) I was catastrophizing a lil bit there, and do need to give my body time to get it’s shit together, not comparing it to others, and 2) Dr. Pablo responds to the hospitals online messaging portal which is truly amazing so I can bombard him with these sort of semi-rational concerns there.
It can be such a brutal realization, especially when you hope and hope that a treatment will work, or something will get better that this is just how things are now, this is the new baseline, that even before my body can heal I’m prepared for the worst, because that is my normal and has been for so long. Because at some point you need to pay rent, you have to move forward, and figure something out. With illnesses that doctors are still figuring out like Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, fibromyalgia, neurological illnesses, and others, it’s not uncommon that even the best physician you can find may not be able to do any more than give you a somewhat bearable baseline with symptom management. And you know what? That is fucking terrifying when your symptoms only get worse. Autoimmune disease is often progressive, the disks in your spine degenerate, brain lesions grow, those arthritic joints just keep getting creakier. You see the hashtag #chronicillnesswarrior so often or “warrior” tagged onto various other illnesses, and its so true, we have to not only fight these illnesses but try and protect ourselves in the process, physically and emotionally. That that is fasho not normal at all the last time I checked.
If you know someone going through any kind of chronic health battle, just be there for them. It’s scary and insanely difficult, and they’re probably only sharing about 25% of what is really going on with most people. We don’t need suggestions, advice, what cured your one aunt that had arthritis. Just need friends and family to say “fuck dude, that is really tough I’ll keep you in my thoughts” or “Oh I’m sorry you’ve been having a flare, can I bring anything over?” It’s that simple folks!
Look out for my next post on how to efficiently pack your hospital belongings bag! This is because my pre-op nurse told me I have a special talent for it soooo super pumped to share! lolz
*Names changed to protect the anonymity of my beloved neck doctor, find you a doc that texts you back, it is EVERYTHING.