Build Strong Foundations
Change rarely follows a straightforward path. Often it is like an obstacle course proceeding in three main phases. The first one is full of endings: things that had been part of your life may no longer be available or possible. Second is a middle zone where you are moving forward into a new direction, but are also still bound by the past. This makes it an often uncomfortable and turbulent space to be in, particularly if you have not chosen the change or it is irreversible. The third phase is characterised by real new beginnings.
You may be going back and forth between the phases, with stops and starts, perhaps three steps forward and two back, disappointments and achievements, upheavals and calmness.
If significant and painful life changes have rattled your sense of self, you may be struggling to know who you are in the new conditions. Facing serious issues and having to adapt to new limitations often means that parts of the ‘old you’ have to be modified and a ‘new you’ developed.
Lucy had a great life. She loved her work, her partner, her large network of friends and close-knit family. But recently Lucy was not quite herself. Unusually tired and uncomfortable with various aches and pains, she often felt like resting rather than going out as she was used to doing. And the pains - she must have inadvertently hurt herself at the gym, it had happened before. Whatever it was, right now it seemed comforting and sensible to rest when she could. She wanted to get back on track as quickly as possible.
But things did not improve. Lucy could not shake the fatigue despite going to bed earlier and sleeping longer. Work had become very tiring and her absences increased. She just did not seem to have much energy and the aches lingered. Just focusing and getting things done was a major effort. This was not normal. After consulting with her doctor, and many tests and meetings with specialists, the eventual diagnosis was severe. A rare form of autoimmune disorder with few treatment options, uncertain progress and recovery not guaranteed.
Lucy was shattered; her life had just fallen apart. She had always been an energetic person, vivacious and fun loving. Who was she now - an invalid for the rest of her life? Everything in her rebelled; she was furious and cursed her fate. Why did this happen to her? She had always looked after herself; she did not deserve such a blow. The life she had envisaged and planned for was in shambles. What about her travel plans? Would she be able to continue work? Would her friends stand by her now she couldn’t join in with them as before? The future looked uncertain and very frightening.
Most of us believe that life should be a certain way and unfold in the way we imagine. We expect a certain outcome if we work hard, are good people, do everything right. But when we are side-swiped by unexpected occurrences such expectations are shattered. To accept the new circumstances without rebelling seems tantamount to surrender to unseen and threatening forces. So we fight against the events in our lives, telling ourselves that we cannot manage the new order of things.
To roll with life’s punches we need to accept the reality of the situation rather than wishing it were different. That does not mean giving up but means taking proactive measures for moving forward.
Lucy struggled with the new circumstances particularly as her automatic thoughts seemed so true: all is lost, my life is finished, not even the doctors know how to deal with this, I’ll never get over this. Trying to find an explanation for why it happened she even got stuck in ‘analysis paralysis’. But dwelling on the ‘why’ was not going to help her, as sometimes there is no obvious reason why difficult things happen. Lucy’s real challenge was finding the ‘how’: how to live with her disease, how not to loose herself in it, how to move forward from here.
Any difficult life change brings with it new challenges. It’s natural to focus on the difficulties or dwell on the factors that contributed to the event but convincing as they may be, such thoughts are often unrealistic, over-dramatic, fear-based or simply wrong. They also have a negative impact on emotions, increasing a sense of helplessness, loss of hope, despair and loneliness.
Choose your perspective
Fortunately, after a period of distress and feeling overwhelmed, Lucy was able to tap into a source of strength within herself. Reminded by family and friends of previous challenges she had overcome, she realised that she was not as powerless as it seemed and the outcome of her current predicament was not set in stone.
Lucy began by taking a broader, more detached view of the situation. As if looking down from a helicopter, she viewed her predicament from a wider perspective:
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