Can I Just Be Normal? By Rick Wirtz

Dr. Wirtz, Licensed Psychologist, writes about the challenges of coping with a chronic disease.

Meet Dr. Rick Wirtz.

As I sat with a client and her husband last week, we were discussing just one of the many chronic physical problems that she has suffered for many years. In a genuinely caring fashion, her husband was encouraging her not to be so hard on herself for the things she can’t do. Things like helping out around the house, going shopping, assisting with the family business, etc. Instead of expressing relief at being exempted from these chores she queried, in a mildly irritated way, “Can I just be normal?” This reaction was only briefly surprising, because I have heard it before from other sufferers of chronic conditions like back pain, paralysis and even alcoholism.

This woman’s question highlights a crucially important reality. The reality is that individuals with chronic physical or emotional conditions are not looking for a free pass that excuses them from daily responsibilities. In fact, they would relish the opportunity to engage in some of the mundane tasks that the able-bodied despise. It is in this desire to “be normal” that such individuals often exacerbate their conditions, much to the disbelief and sometimes annoyance of their family, friends and medical providers. When the opportunity of a “good day” (i.e. a chance to “be normal”) presents itself, the sufferer of the chronic condition doesn’t want to miss a moment of it and then typically pays for all that normalcy for days, if not weeks.

As someone who is supporting and/or caring for an individual with a chronic condition, it is important to help that person identify where to draw the line. The starving man at the smorgasbord is not likely to pass up the opportunity to gorge himself until he makes himself sick. Similarly, “good” days are not to be wasted but they can be put to better use by not allowing the sufferer of a chronic condition to overextend themselves as if there will never be another “good day.”

Finding balance is the key!

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