Yesterday I realized something about my standing-too-long injuries. Most of them don’t happen in big events like the VegExpo I went to last spring. Most of them happen in daily interactions with regular people.

I’d been cooped up in the house too long and had just dumped my cat, Timbits, from my lap. Timbits is 19 pounds of muscled tomcat, my chunka chunka burnin’ love. Timbits doesn’t understand my knee injury. He loves sitting in the groove of my legs when I’m leaned back in the recliner. Unlike his predecessor, Nimby, who was tuned into my comfort, Timbits is oblivious to the fact that he’s causing me pain. Every once in a while he shifts his weight and digs his elbows into my knees. He’s a needy boy and I try to indulge him for a few minutes before I dump him off my lap. I decided to take him outside for a walk to assure him that I was only rejecting his position on my legs, not him.

I grabbed my red Netflix envelope and we started the long walk to the big communal mailbox. We only made it across the street before we ran into my neighbor, Barbara, who I really like and rarely see. We got to chatting, and I ignored the escalating protests from my spine as we stood. It’s a typical sterile condominium yard; there are no benches or anything to encourage people to linger outside before scuttling into their units and snapping their uniform beige miniblinds closed. After about 10 minutes, my knee twinged hard and I knew I needed to go sit. I had to cut off our chat and limp back to my recliner with a reluctant Timbits trailing behind, my DVD unmailed.

This time I tended to my knee before it got inflamed and filled up with fluid. Once that happens, it’s at least a 2-day recovery, sometimes a week or more. If it hadn’t been my knee giving the warning, my back would have rebelled. These normal human interactions that people take for granted are on a timer for me.

When I went to visit friends in Canada last month, I joyfully reunited with the family, walking around the resort they own and standing in lively discussions with each person in turn. When I finally got into my private space for the night, my knee throbbed and my back screamed. I was in rough shape the whole week and it took me 2 weeks to recover when I got home.

I keep thinking it’s as easy as staying alert to these situations and making self-care my first priority, but when you are talking with someone you care about, you forget all that and you’re a normal person inside until a twinge reminds you, “Oh.” And you think, “Can we just put that mess on hold while I finish talking with my friend?” You think just this once it will be okay, and it never is.

Last Sunday I attended a memorial service for my friend Judi. Many other friends were there who I hadn’t seen in a long time. My friend was older, and most of Judi’s other friends there were too. I laughed inside at the irony of me wanting to sit down while these older ladies stood around in groups, then it occurred to me that maybe they wished they could sit down too. I touched my friend Ruby’s arm and asked if she’d like to go sit at a table with me. She said, “Oh, bless you, dear, I really would.” A crowd quickly gathered at our table as others joined us to take a load off. I felt Judi’s laughing presence, saying “Good for you, kiddo.”

Do you find yourself feeling awkward when you need to cut off a normal interaction to tend to your special needs? How do you cope?