Friday, February 11, 2011

Attitudes and Experiments to Get to the New Normal

A woman asked me "how long does it take to get to that new normal?" She was talking about the idea that, living with chronic illness, our bodies change and we adjust until we get to a new normal.

I don't think my answer was very helpful. I talked about the process and amount of time being different for everybody. That's true, but it doesn't get many of us through the rough spots.

We're talking about dealing with change. One of the Carnegie coaches on the Dale Carnegie blog generalized: "In today’s workplace, there may be no more important skill than the ability to adapt successfully to change."

While all 21st century citizens are dealing with change, those of us coping with chronic illness are exploring new territory. It's no huge surprise that googling "new normal" took me to a "Survivorship Guide for Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant" page.

Like others, our new normal is imposed by outward circumstance. Unlike others, our new normal is found within our own bodies, our own psyches, our own souls.

Standing in the way of my reaching a new normal, I find three things:
  1. Grief. It's hard to let go of the me that was. I was comfortable, capable and more easy-going. The way of life being forced on me is not one I desired.
  2. Ignorance. I'm not sure what is involved. It's not clear what my body can do and can no longer do. I can only guess and pay the price in pain or exhaustion when I guess wrong.
  3. Impatience. As soon as I understand that things need to change I want to be done with it. I want to reach the point where things are comfortable again. I want it NOW.
While my disease is beyond my control (not, with medication, beyond influence, but still beyond control), I can control my actions and attitudes.

Attitudes helpful in the face of change
  • Change is a challenge. Getting to the new normal is not easy, but it is possible. If I have a competitive bone in my body, now is the time to engage it. Some people climb mountains, I get to the next new normal.
  • Find the gift. Again, this is not easy. Finding the gift may feel like grasping at straws, but it is a worthy exercise. Grasp those straws and list the ways that this change will be change for the better. You don't have to believe it. You are just opening the door a crack.
  • Try something new. I'm not a fan of change for its own sake, but having the attitude that I am going to "try something new" can help me embrace the new normal. It may not be forever. This may not be my final answer. For now, I'm going to try something new.
Here are some experiments to try:
  • Learn about the new you. Explore the contours of the change. Do exercises to find ou how your body has changed. By this I don't mean challenging your body, but moving it gently to find out what you can do now. Physical therapists are often helpful in this experiment.
  • Explore your hidden judgments. Write a list: "people who [whatever you're dealing with] are..." Keep your hand moving and write as many items as you can manage. Look at and challenge each judgment.
  • Practice loving you. I often listen to the Loving Kindness Meditation  at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center in UCLA. The process of extending loving kindness to my good friend, imagining her returning it and then practicing loving myself works for me. The article Waving goodbye to our old selves, and embracing our new existence at speaks to this issue.
  • Celebrate the new new you. Have a special meal or give yourself a gift that celebrates your new self. You are, after all, evolving a new being. Reward yourself for the effort.
Evolution takes time and it's hard to be patient with it.  Luckily we have things we can do to keep us entertained while we're transforming.

1 comment:

Kate Wolfe-Jenson said...

Sorry! In the process of learning how to moderate comments I deleted them. I hate learning from experience!