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Déjà Vu: The Setback-Comeback Cycle

There are plenty of fresh new topics to write about this week, but my head is in the insight place. It wants to talk about what’s going on with me, and maybe see if this sort of thing goes on with you too. Last year I wrote this column about my knee injury and being sent back to square one:

A year later, I’m still repeating old patterns, but I’m much further along, so I’m more willing to entertain the insights that come with the journey.

Many of us in hidden disability world go through cycles of setbacks and comebacks. If we’re lucky, our path moves two steps forward, one step back—going in a general forward direction. On September 1, 2017, I fell more than halfway back down the stairs, figuratively speaking. When I hit that pavement with my face and knee, the injuries restricted my mobility to the extent that I lost years of work. I didn’t even realize how much ground I’d lost until I started to gain it back and remembered what full mobility feels like.

Before I fell, I told people that if I didn’t get my daily physical therapy, I’d backslide and become an infirm old person very quickly. That happened, but so slowly and subtly that I was like a frog in hot water and didn’t realize I was in trouble until it started to boil and I was too weakened to jump out. By then I had a handicap placard for my car and no end for needing it in sight.

At my lowest point, my friend Jane invited me to go with her to Malaysia, Thailand and to walk on the Great Wall of China. It would have been a dream vacation in my old body. I had just come into some money, and could have put off the many hands grabbing at my pockets long enough to go if I really wanted to, but in this body, why bother? I couldn’t walk on the Great Wall of China; I couldn’t even get to the stairs from the parking lot. I didn’t want to spend all that money when I would get so little from the trip.

As it happens, while Jane was in Asia, I got the opportunity to buy my tiny house. I was not in good physical form to move or to adapt to tiny life, but opportunities seldom arrive at convenient times. I’d lost enough of them already to jump on this one at any cost. My knee was improving steadily, thanks to the return of collagen to my diet ( and I pushed myself harder than I imagined possible to make the move.

About 3 weeks after the move, I visited my chiropractor and told him I was in severe and constant pain. He said, “Well, that’s interesting, because your spine is moving better than it has since I met you, and I hardly have anything to adjust.” He said he thought the pain would subside over the next few weeks and I would find that tiny house life agrees with me. He was right! I’m still at a high pain level, but it’s improving and I’m not getting the misalignment issues that plagued me before.

My knees are improving too. For the first 3 weeks in the tiny house, both my knees put up a fuss. It ached to take a single step. But soon I noticed that even though it hurt, I was walking at my old pace, with my old gait. I took stairs one foot to a step, both up and down. I haven’t done that in over a year.

Last weekend I spent time with two friends who are both more than 6 inches taller than me, and I kept up with them on a walking tour of downtown Eugene. My endurance for standing was still less than theirs, but far greater than it had been a month ago.

I’m starting to feel strong again—genuinely energetic, as opposed to forcing myself to get through the day. Now that I can move, I can take off the weight I put on when I couldn’t, and I’ll feel even better. I dearly hope I don’t ever have another setback as bad as this one.

Before I started to come back, I wondered if I’d exaggerated the importance of my daily physical therapy. I backslid, but it wasn’t that bad. Oh, yes it was! I’d just gotten so used to a lower-powered life, I didn’t remember what better living was like.

Has this happened to you, that you didn’t realize how badly you’d been set back until you started to come out of it?

Déjà Vu: The Setback-Comeback Cycle

Kristin Noreen

Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, Washington with two cats and her vintage touring bicycle, Silver. Her triple passions are animal rescue, long-distance bike touring, and writing. Her book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, is about reinventing her life following a catastrophic injury.

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APA Reference
, . (2019). Déjà Vu: The Setback-Comeback Cycle. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Apr 2019
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