The New Normal

the New Normal

We’ve arrived.

It’s taken two and half years to get here, but I now cautiously declare that our family has reached that elusive, indeterminate state of being otherwise known as the “new normal.” There have been no welcome signs, banners, or champagne toasts to signify our arrival, of course. It’s more of a gut feeling, an awareness of our progressively steady pace, that leads me to believe we have arrived at the locale we’ve been preparing ourselves for over the past thirty months.

I would need additional hands and feet to count the number of times I have been warned or reminded of the “new normal.” This TBI catchphrase was used so often during TC’s recovery that I eventually began to meet it with an eye roll. OK, I get it; I remember thinking, the normal-normal is a thing of the past. What I didn’t expect, however, is that it would take so long for the new normal to finally take hold. Or, like I wrote last month, that it would be so fragile.

My husband was 29-years-old when he was robbed on the street and beaten with a baseball bat. He was also a new father. So as I reflect on the new normal from the perspective of a 32-year-old caregiver, full-time teacher, and mother to a 4-year-old, I know it’s important to recognize that this period of life tends to be stressful for all families, not just those affected by brain injury. As our son’s world becomes increasingly larger and more complex, so does ours. And as we welcome the arrival of monumental blessings, such as TC’s return to work, we also welcome additional complications and stressors. For us, the new normal is a constant whirlwind of activity: packing lunches, toilet training, paying bills, arranging babysitters, grading papers, etc., etc. By the end of the day, we’ve checked off only a third of our to-do list and we’re completely wiped.

There’s very little time left at the moment to focus on the remaining physical and cognitive issues that TC would like to strengthen. Likewise, there’s minimal time for teaching yoga or writing books or working on any of the goals I’ve set for myself. On a good day, we can get two adults to work, one child to school, and three meals in everyone’s stomach. And on a really good day, the poor dog gets a walk.

But the reality is that many days don’t run quite that smoothly. Add in a leaky faucet, the stomach flu, or any of the other little stressors we’ve encountered this winter, and the whole thing feels as if it’s crumbling.

It was just this past Wednesday, otherwise known as Day 3 of the Dreadful Stomach Flu being passed around by my fourth grade students, that I felt a familiar low. With a rising fever and a very tender digestive tract, I dragged myself out of bed and managed to get dressed. I would have called out sick but I had already stayed home for a day to recover, so it was imperative that I suck it up. Unfortunately, my illness coincided with Day 5 of Brain Injury Related Insomnia for TC, and my caregiver radar began to loudly alarm as I watched TC exhaustedly struggle to understand my words and to formulate his own as we dressed Jack for school. My mind quickly disregarded my own illness as I assessed TC’s condition and the likelihood of a stress-related seizure.  

A week later, all is well again, but I can’t help worrying that the new normal is only manageable for us in ideal conditions. What happens if I become ill with something more serious than the flu? How will we manage when we meet our next major catastrophe? Those are bigger, long-term concerns, of course, but it never ceases to amaze me that even one or two little kinks in the chain have the potential to derail us. Such is brain injury, however, and such is this “new normal” of which everyone speaks. I write this month’s blog not to broadcast a pitiful and unnecessary declaration that life is hard, but to remind all of us who now live in this fragile state or are nearing it, that the new normal is its own kind of challenge.

It’s a gift to write from this position and I can’t deny it. There was a time not so long ago that my biggest dream (truly a legitimate fantasy I nursed) was to be able to escort my wheelchair-bound husband to the grocery store alone. I wistfully imagined us strolling up and down the aisles of Safeway, picking out cereal and debating dinner menus. For months I longed for any life outside those hospital walls, any kind of existence that harbored even a 1% resemblance to our former lives. Now we have so much of what we once did that it feels shockingly ungrateful to bemoan the tough days.

The new normal looks different for every family because the challenges handed to us by TBI are never the same, nor are the ways we find to adapt. To those on the outside, our new normal may look pretty darn normal, so it is with equal parts gratitude and humility that I make this request: please do not be deceived. This invisible injury is only invisible to strangers. At our house its presence is visible enough that it has nearly earned its own place at the dinner table. We make do. We’ve learned to adjust to a family with one driver, a calendar full of doctor’s appointments and plans that often have to be canceled, and a laundry list of our other quirks. We power through and make the best of the high degree of uncertainty we feel about the future. We’re hanging in there and we’re grateful for our second chance. If this is the new normal, we’re living it. And we’re trying our best to stay in this delicate, special place as long as we can.

Comments (12)

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As brain injury survivors we can appreciate that there is such a thing as new normal.  We come to terms with this fact everyday upon awakening.  It's a new day with different circumstances.  We try to do the best we can everyday and that is our solace.  We just hope that our best will be good enough and usually it is.

Absolute perfection in every word as far as the cold hard truth is concerned! Brings tears to my eyes knowing that there are others that have experienced similar struggles that have by far exceeded any pain I could describe. My thoughts are with you and your family! I've learned since his accident to smile through the tears and focus on standing tall enough for both myself and for my Dad! Even when my knees are noticeably weak. Tell your Husband that he is a living miracle, fighting to remain with those he holds most dear to his heart. And that truly shows how hard headed a father and husband can truly be! Take care, and always count your blessings.

" The new normal " my how so many of us struggle to find or except the " new normal ". I struggle mostly with remembering today's agenda . Get up and start my day with calendar of what is today , and what am I to do today . Carry a pen plus paper in order to keep a log on what I am not to forget . Yes doctor visits , dentist , and other weeks or months ahead plans are on calendar too . I need a ride , where ever I go . This can be very challenging , ( I use to drive but after auto accident , no way ) I feel like a burden, even though I am told your not . After two years. This is the new normal ,,umm !

I haven't posted here before but have been reading with great interest for a long time. My husband had his TBI two and half years ago. He has had a fantastic recovery and as you mentioned, most people wouldn't know what we deal with on a day to day basis. I'm writing because two years ago, one and half years ago, maybe even a year ago, I thought if I heard "the new normal" one more time I was going to sock someone. We are living the new normal. It does happen and it takes a very long time.It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that there MIGHT be a new normal, then that there WOULD be a new normal and now that this IS the new normal...about two years.

As a TBI patient, you are an amazing tough woman, mother, & wife. If you don't hear tgat of anyone else, please know it from me. Your husband is a blessed man to have you by his side. God has him here for a purpose. Maybe you are it :) Please know that I pray for your "new normal". Always thoughts & prayers.

The new normal is the new perspective one must take to survive. Pushed on thee it is unmanageable, it seems. But the human spirit is capable of reaching heights unbeknownst. Carry on for there is light to be found at the end of the tunnel.

Art Cortis

Bless you and your family on your journey through life. All we can only contend with is what's in front of us on any given day. Normal? I guess some days. But the sun comes up anyway.

I known the issue at hand we go through the same obstacles some times you wonder will there ever be even a new normal? ??

Blessings to your family and your "new normal". I can relate! Thus morning I am sitting reading this at breakfast. The first quiet moment I have taken for myself in the past 24 hours. My husband suffered a TBI 6 months ago and yesterday suffered what the docs think may be a stress related seizure. We are no way near any kind of normal! He is in the hospital and we have no idea what lies ahead. Thanks for your great post. It gives me hope and more importantly helps me remember I am not alone. Thanks, Zia

I am so proud what you have achieved and thank you for sharing your story. The sharing on Brainline is so powerful for survivors and their loved ones.

Thank you,

Bob Ruddy

I love this: "I can’t help worrying that the new normal is only manageable for us in ideal conditions."

 Yes, the new normal, is a changing animal. As somebody said (sorry, but I don't remember who) it's the "current" normal.