Reentering Normal Life After Chronic Illness

September 20, 2017

I cleaned the bathroom on Monday! Completing such a mundane task might not seem like a remarkable accomplishment and for most people, it isn’t. For me, it’s a different story. You see, I haven’t cleaned a bathroom since I was 19. Some might think that makes me lucky but I assure you that it does not. I wish I had spent the last five years cleaning bathrooms rather than fighting for my life and health.

My last memory of cleaning a bathroom is forever etched into my mind as a moment when I realized that my body was falling apart. It took me about three hours to clean it. I remember just sitting on the floor leaning against the bathtub trying to catch my breath. Trying to get my body to move again. I would clean a little and then sit down to rest again. My stamina had evaporated into thin air.

Just a few months earlier I had been dancing six hours a day. How could it be that cleaning one bathroom took more energy than six hours of ballet? After I finally finished cleaning the bathroom I had to lay down on the couch to try to recover. My body ached. Something was seriously wrong with me and we had no idea what it was.

I trust you can see why cleaning the bathroom today was such a big deal. I was really nervous on Sunday just thinking about how I was going to have to clean the bathroom. What if I didn’t remember how to do it? It felt like a daunting task. I really thought it might take me all day.

The good news is, I got it done in less than an hour and only realized afterwards how absurd it was for me to plan for it to take all day. The magnitude of the task had been blown way out of proportion. I hadn’t done it in so long that it felt foreign and overwhelming.

Fear of the unknown is something that I’ve had to deal with a lot in recovery. Reentering normal life after so many years of illness is kind of like coming home after living abroad for many years. Everything that should feel familiar feels new, scary and overwhelming.

I’ve often found myself feeling like a stranger in this world I call home. It takes time to relearn how to do everything that everyone else seems to do without thinking. A perfect illustration of this was the first time I went to a store without Brett. I was still using my wheelchair at this point. My sister was with me but I was the one with the credit card.

It wasn’t until we were in the check out line that I realized I didn’t remember how to use a credit card. Do you wait for them to tell you to swipe it? Which direction do you swipe it? Do I have to press a button? Before or after I swipe? I could feel my heart pounding faster in my chest and my cheeks getting flushed as I asked my sister for help.

The first time I encountered a chip reader was a similar experience. The checkout lady actually chuckled at me in disbelief, “You’ve never used a chip reader before?!” She meant no harm, but I felt humiliated. How do you explain to a stranger that you’re not stupid? That you’ve just been living in an alternate reality filled with doctors and medications and sickness?

The good news is, I’m gradually relearning to navigate this complicated world. Last week, I went into a store all by myself and bought some workout clothes. I was really shy, nervous and uncomfortable. It definitely took more courage than it should have to ask where the fitting room was. But this time I swiped the credit card correctly and left with a little more confidence. (Though I still forgot the part where you have to sign your name!)

It’s one thing to relearn how to do things and quite another to start feel comfortable doing them. The latter takes a lot more repetitions. The trick is to just take it one baby step at a time and practice until you get it down. You don’t have to become normal all at once. Just take it slow like peeling an onion layer by layer. Only try new things as you feel ready and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be patient with yourself. It’s not easy learning to be normal again. And last but not least, have fun with it. It’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to laugh at yourself.

By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.

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  • Laura Davison

    I am so proud of you, Ana! Your persistence and courage in moving towards a more normal life is inspirational. And I loved your analogy of re-entering society as being like reverse culture shock – it’s so overwhelming and humiliating to not know “the way things are done”. Good on you for not giving up. I love you so much!

    September 20, 2017 at 3:35 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much Laura. That’s exactly right. It’s really strange. Thank you for your encouragement! 😊💕

      September 21, 2017 at 11:02 am Reply
  • Lisa

    Congratulations Ana!! Just so you know, I often forget I have to sign my name after putting my credit card into the chip reader. Check out clerks remind me often! 🙂

    September 20, 2017 at 4:09 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thanks so much Lisa! That’s good to know I’m not the only one. 😊

      September 21, 2017 at 11:02 am Reply
  • Natalie Julson

    Oh Ana, this is all so exciting! I am excited and happy for you. Praying for you guys continually.

    September 20, 2017 at 7:38 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so so so much Natalie! 😊

      September 21, 2017 at 11:03 am Reply
  • Charis Rae

    Good for you, Ana! It’s amazing how the simplest things that we take for granted really mean so much. 🙂

    September 21, 2017 at 7:50 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you very much Charis! So very true! 💕

      September 21, 2017 at 11:03 am Reply
  • Lizbeth

    I’m so glad! Oh, that cashier was so rude!

    September 22, 2017 at 12:41 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thanks so much Lizbeth! She didn’t know my story. I bet if she knew she wouldn’t have been rude.

      September 22, 2017 at 1:58 pm Reply
  • Natalie

    Hi! I ran across your post because I searched for life after chronic illness. I have been sick for 7 years. I haven’t been as sick as young far and I’m so sorry that you were. It is like I’m lost now that I’m feeling better and stronger. I walk around my apartment unsure of what to do sometimes. Kind of in a daze because in the last I was just resting or doing health protocols. I never had enough time to get much of anything done when I felt good enough. There are little tasks that need to be done now but I don’t quite feel up to it maybe or I know I can do it another day so I put it off but I do feel like doing something! Maybe I feel bored because I need a passion. I don’t want to push myself to far energy-wise and I still think of myself as fatigued and get overwhelmed often. Cooking is so overwhelming to me. I am slowly learning to do it again. Thank you for your post. It does feel like I’ve been abroad or something. Your words help me to be kind to myself. I know I have a purpose but need to find it. I am hopeful and excited to be feeling better! I’m so happy to hear that you are feeling better! I just found this post and noticed mold toxicity as a tag. I have had mold sensitivity and think it was what caused a lot of my illness. We had mold remediation last month. I look forward to learning more of your story!

    February 25, 2018 at 1:18 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Hi Natalie! Welcome to the blog. I’m so glad you found a post that resonated with you. I’m sorry you’ve struggled with illness too but happy to hear that you are entering the recovery phase. It’s definitely disorienting for a while but it does get better. Just take it one step at a time. No need to rush into everything. 🙂

      February 26, 2018 at 5:12 pm Reply

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