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"I just want to be normal." There are a few times in life that make us say that. For example: 1) being in Junior high school 2) lying around in pain after being diagnosed with something chronic and incurable. Junior high school aside, I never wanted to be normal. Exceptional, yes. Strange and wacky, definitely. Outstanding, indeed. Memorable, talented, funny, smart, anything but normal. Up until I got sick. Then, suddenly, "normal" started looking pretty good. I recently went through 6 months' worth of PT for tendinitis (in my arm), and in attempt to get back to- you guessed it- normal. I also did some sessions for my back, because for years I've been crawling up the stairs, as my legs would not support me. Now I am in the kind of shape that most normal people are in when they show up to start a fitness regimen. I've graduated from "remedial" to "normal." First I want to tell my friends with chronic illnesses that it is possible to get back to feeling "normal." And if that is your goal, 1) it's attainable and 2) it is a worthy goal, and if you stop at that, I got no problem with it. But naturally, once I got back from being sickly and weak to "normal," my desire to be exceptional resurfaced, and I am again dissatisfied with being simply "normal." But I am keenly aware of how difficult just getting back to normal can be. Sometimes, you're falling apart so fast you're just trying to not die. Like, the three times I've gone into kidney failure- my muscles started wasting away, I got so weak I couldn't get up and down the one stair to the outside of the house. And I gotta say, the hospital is certainly no place to get in any better shape. How can you regain your strength when they don't want you to leave your bed? Prisoners have a better shot at getting healthy than hospital patients. I hobbled into an emergency room once with chronic pain (and kidney failure) and after a week in a hospital bed, I couldn't even stand up without a cane and -no lie- a giant leash around my waist. Add to that the fact that stress can trigger any illness, and you do have this worry in the back of your mind that if you work out too hard, you're going to end up sick all over again. Add to that the pain factor (who wants to exert themselves when it hurts enough just sitting around?), and you've got a mess of challenges to overcome. I have gone from very sick and weak to "normal" 3 times now, and this 3rd time was with the aid of Physical Therapy, but the other 2 times I did it on my own. The first time, I started with walking. I'd set a goal to go just a little further every day, starting with just going to the stop sign and back. When I got up to about 2 miles, I joined a gym, where I used a stationary bicycle (I rode so slowly that it cut off because I guess it thought no one was riding it, but you gotta start somewhere!). Then I joined a bicycle club (I was the slowest one in the club, and was usually riding way behind everyone else- but the key was to measure my progress against what I could do the week or month before, not against what others were doing). As long as I saw progress, I was happy with myself. The second time I got sick and got better, I was too weak to walk. My legs were blown up with water retention from the congestive heart failure, so instead I got in the pool and held onto the side and kicked. Then I swam. Then I walked. The third time, I was really weak but I had good insurance and access, so I got a prescription for PT, and I went to a sports medicine place for 6 months. When I "graduated" I got a regimen of exercises to do on my own to stay in shape. With or without a PT, the idea was the same each time: start really small, deal with the pain issue (heat, ice, massage, whatever works), do exercise that doesn't aggravate the pain (swim, walk, cycle), set *gradually* larger goals, and watch inspiring movies and read inspiring books to keep yourself going. Maybe join a club of some sort for the social aspect, if you can find one where you won't feel left behind by the more fit people. And if you have setbacks, back up a bit and start over. Because in the words of Rocky Balboa, "It's not how many times you fall down, it's how many times you get back up." And now that I am "normal," I've set my sites higher, and am looking into what I can do next, because I want to have *fun* living inside a body- wouldn't it be great to celebrate living in a body, not just try to tune it out all the time? It's certainly what I did before the illness struck. So what's next? Tap dance lessons? Aerobic dance? Soccer club? My plan this year is to explore some of these until I find something fun. I think that is what a lot of normal people do.

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