On advice of the workers comp doctor, I’ve been going to the pool, to try to do some walking without my full weight on my foot. My rec center has a little lazy river thing, and I walked with the current of it today.
It felt almost normal.
Except as soon as I thought that, I realized that normal was the wrong word to use. What I really meant was that it felt something in the neighborhood of how I used to be able to walk, before the surgery, before the injury. Normal back then was a moderate gait with a slight limp that I’d developed over 35 years of walking on my terrible arches and chronically spraining my left ankle. That normal wasn’t the best gait in the world, but it got me around at a decent clip and meant I could average 5 miles of walking a day between work and playing Ingress or Pokemon and feel pretty good about it.
Normal is normal for you. It’s the place you settle after the healing and the physical therapy and the retraining to about as good as it’s going to be. Normal is made of hopefully good habits, but some bad. And normal changes. That’s the thing that trips me up. Normal isn’t a static value. It shifts with the circumstances, gets modified by the sling and arrows of outrageous fortune.
After you get injured, or sick, or anything else, on the other side you find a new normal. Sometimes it’s the same or close to the old normal. Sometimes it’s going to be really different. The hardest thing to accept is that it is what it is. Your normal is going to be your normal. You can push it this way or that with physical therapy, with dedicated time and practice and good technique and mindfulness. But at some point, you hit the border where you can go no further. The normal doesn’t move that far from its center unless it’s traumatically shifted again.
We like to pretend that mind over matter is a thing. But eventually, the matter wins. It’s what we’re made of, whether we acknowledge it or not.
I’m mostly thinking about this now because the workers comp doctor told me something else: I’m not progressing as fast as they would expect for someone my age and relative level of health. That could mean nothing, or it could mean everything. You can’t dictate the way your body heals. But it’s making me wonder if I’ve already arrived at my new normal and now I’m just trying to push the center of it as far as I can. Is my new normal always walking with a cane? Is my new normal chronic pain in the arch of my foot? Is my new normal a much more pronounced limp than I used to have, one that everyone can see and not just trained professionals? Or is this not my normal, and instead a symptom that something else has gone wrong, a nick in a ligament or a bruise on a bone?
There’s no way of knowing right now. Time will tell.
Which as you can imagine, I’m just overjoyed about. I’ve always been such a patient soul, right? I want a set reward and a guarantee, and I get none of those things. All I can do is put in the work and keep hoping. And while I work on my matter to try to build its normal, I also need to work on my mind. I have to be able to accept wherever I end up.
That’s the part that’s harder than fighting my nemesis, the two-inch-high step, or attempting calf stretches, or the other things that only just hurt. I have to reshape my expectations of myself, my habits, my life. Because I have to keep going on the other side of it. I have to find a new normal for my life, just like I have to find a new normal for my gait, and that’s the scariest part of all.