Appointments with my medical team shape each day in rehab. With my physios, both on land and in the pool, our focus is on recovering movement. But my time with the OT (occupational therapist) has a different direction. They prepare me for my ‘new normal’; what my life will now look like with a disability. They keep reminding me that I can still do the same things, but I will be doing those things differently. Making a cup of tea, for example. I won’t be able to take out the teabag by carrying my cup to the bin. I now need to put the teabag into a different cup and then empty that cup into the bin. Everyday tasks will now take longer. They keep stressing the need to conserve energy because tasks will take twice as long. This is my ‘new normal’.
At the end of that first week in rehab, my thinking was beginning to adjust to this ‘new normal’. But as emails arrive in my inbox asking me to be involved in conferences, it was no longer a matter of me getting used to this ‘new normal’, I needed to start letting others know my ‘new normal’ and what this now means. Trying to figure out how to tell people is a difficult thing to do, especially when I am now so dependent upon others. A lot of my responses sound so dispassionate as I read them, or steady as though I have taken all of this in my stride. But actually, it takes all my mental energy to write about the situation clearly. I find myself emotionally distancing myself from what I write in the email because it is hard to write the truth that I now have a disability that affects every part of my life.
This is my new normal. My new normal is being walking stick bound. I hope to be able to build up the distance I can walk, but for now I can only walk for ten minutes. I won’t be able to drive for the foreseeable future. If in a year’s time I still have this level of disability, then I will need to begin relearning how to drive with my left foot. This is my ‘new normal’.
How long this new normal will last, only the Lord knows. No one else does. Having to write emails explaining what this might mean for my involvement in particular conferences was actually quite helpful, although quite numbing emotionally. Helpful in forcing me to write the ‘d’ word – disability. And what is a great blessing is the attitude of those who have responded. Taking the problem in their stride and giving me options about how I can still be involved. They haven’t written me off as now being unable. I have really appreciated those who have been willing to work with me, to problem solve, so that we figure out together how to make life work now given my ‘new normal’. The hardest responses are to those who think I’m sick because of what I’ve been through and what I am now facing. Having a physical disability is not an ailment; my mind still works the same. I just have new limits to my physical capacity, for a little while at least. Being in hospital doesn’t help people see this. I know that when I return to life outside the hospital walls, I will be spending a lot of time yet again proving myself capable and as capable as my colleagues and fellow academics who are without a disability. On the other hand though, I am all too aware that I’m not the only one going through the transition. Everyone who has known and is used to my ‘old normal’ will be making the transition to getting to grips with my ‘new normal’. It’s not an easy change. I know. But the best way is together and not alone.