When a serious health issue happens to you or you are the carer, navigating and accepting the unwanted change may have been a tough process. You may have experienced a whirl of strange and overwhelming emotions, which drained your energy, as you learned to adjust.
You eventually adjusted and life may have felt a little more balanced. But then another change due to the health issue comes along upsetting that balance. Those emotions reappear and you think, ‘Oh no, not again. How are we going to navigate this change?’
Those emotions you’re experiencing? They’re normal. You’re normal for experiencing them. Because you’re human. It’s documented in the psychological literature that people go through phases when a big change happens to them (Kubler-Ross, 1969). One of those phases is often referred to as acceptance.
This is a HUGE topic I could write about for a very long time and will write about it again. Today I am focusing on how acceptance crops up again as we, or a significant other, deal with unwanted changes that happen due to a serious health issue, and how we can make the journey to acceptance less emotionally draining.
Change and acceptance walk together
As you continue to age, your body changes and common signs of that process may appear – arthritis, poor eyesight, etc. A chronic condition or serious illness/injury can bring additional changes, which the prospect of living with can be very difficult. That cycle of acceptance starts again.
I’ll use an example of a woman who was once a coaching client (permission obtained). The story is about how she was impacted by an unwanted change in her husband’s health and how she dealt with it.
Her husband had Type 2 diabetes and lost a bit of vision in one eye as a result. So he was required by the DVLA to have his eyes examined to determine if he could still drive.
This wasn’t great news for him. He loved cars, driving and was a great driver. He had also recently bought himself a new car. He was facing the prospect that maybe his other half would have to drive him everywhere. But she was a very out-of-practice driver, didn’t care to drive in the big city where they lived, and hadn’t even yet driven the new car.
Driving her husband everywhere was the last thing she wanted to be doing. And it was the last thing he wanted.
How did she accept these changes?
How did the wife accept getting comfortable with the prospect of driving and being relied upon for that?
How did she accept the probability her husband may at times get frustrated with her driving skills?
She wondered how her husband would accept any future loss of independence and a favourite activity. But was hoping it would never come to that.
She sought support in the meantime to deal with her fears around this possible change and several learnings came out of our work together.
Acceptance is a journey
Their previous experience with serious health issues remind her that acceptance of change is a journey. And that journey will consist of navigating the impact of that change.
Remind yourself of when you deal with a big change previously and how you got yourself through it, whatever that change was. You can learn from previous experience to apply it to your current situation.
Notice the fears and emotions
We noticed she was holding on to a lot of fear: fear crashing her husband’s beloved car, fear of getting into an accident and hurting themselves and other people, fear of what might happen to her husband in the future. She felt an immense sadness for him too as she appreciated how much he loved cars and driving and didn’t want him to lose a favourite activity.
Focusing on fears is natural so don’t beat yourself up about it. But also keep an eye on them as you don’t want them to go unchecked and morph into something really unhelpful. So notice them, acknowledge that they are there, double check if they can be a helpful reminder of things to look out for, and check their validity by questioning them.
As for the sadness, she recognised that feeling it was normal and part of the process.
Harness the fear to navigate the changes
This is where the pragmatic part of the wife kicked in and she said…
For her, using fruity language was the impetus she found to move herself forward. She decided she had to get her driving mojo back. She reminded herself she once did this and so was capable of it. She made it a priority to drive and eventually relearned to drive on the tight and busy roads where she lived. She got her husband involved in helping her by asking him to be a second pair of eyes and give advice on reading the road and driving skills. Although at that point her husband was still able to drive, she felt better prepared for the future if she ever needed to become the driver for their family. She also felt better that she had found a way to have her husband be part of the driving even as a passenger.
When we start to navigate the changes we have to make, we are taking control. This is the stuff that enhances our self-confidence and sense of self-worth. So look for what is in your direct control and influence to do and change (Covey, 1989), and ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ (Jeffers, 1987).
Not everything we do may work. We may feel stupid from time to time. We may use fruity language and feel we can do without our current situation. We may beat ourselves up and take it out on others. Feelings of sadness and other strong emotions may reappear.
Remember to practice self-compassion. Like I wrote two weeks ago, when things don’t go the way you want, remind yourself that you are learning, ask yourself what specifically you are learning, and implement that learning. When strong emotions appear, spend a little time with them and this blog will tell you how to do that without them overwhelming you. Also, ensure you have support from others to talk to and to get a break from your current situation. This is all self-compassion in action.
Remember empathy for the other
Whether you have the condition/ illness/ injury, or are the carer, unexpected changes you have to deal with may not be easy for either of you. So empathy for each other is so important. This often takes the form of taking turns to listen to the other and being with them whilst they experience an achievement or are feeling rubbish about the situation.
Listen with the intent of being with and understanding rather than aiming to solve their issue. Let to them talk, even gently encourage them to, and if they don’t want to, let them be. Just sitting and listening intently is a powerful acknowledgement and validation of the person and what they’re experiencing. And this is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another.
Reminding yourself of what you already know, acknowledging the fears and emotions, harnessing the fears to move into action, and practicing self-compassion and empathy can reduce the emotional struggle whilst you adjust and adapt to the change.
What’s it like for you?
What strategies have you used to navigate change due to a health issue? What worked for you? What made acceptance of that change easy or difficult? Share below as what you’ve done may inspire others.
If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue and have had to deal with unwanted changes as a result, are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.
Pass it forward
Although these blogs are written in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017
Covey, S.R. (1989) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. London, UK: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.
Jeffers, S. (1987) Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. London, UK: Penguin Random House UK