Coping with change
Several weeks ago my wife noted an uncomfortable pressure in her ear. A few days later, she was diagnosed with an acute condition called idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss. She had lost significant hearing in one ear. In the same week, she began a series of injections of cortisone into her middle ear—trust me, they were not a day at the beach. Several weeks earlier, we were lying on a beach in Greece soaking up the sun—but today we are worried that she will have a permanent hearing impairment.
Life can change on a dime.
One moment we are happy, carefree, and comfortable. The next moment we or someone we love is struggling with a life changing circumstance. This happened recently on a warm summer evening in Mukilteo. Scores of lives were changed in a single instant.
Our first response is shock. How could this happen to me or someone I love? It takes a little time to wrap your arms around an abrupt change. Soon after, anger follows. Why me? Everything was going so well. Fear and anxiety come along for the ride too. When our lives change suddenly, without warning, our sense of security is threatened. We like to think that our lives are predictable. Yes, we know the sun will always rise and set in the same 24 hours. But everything else is a crap shoot.
As I grow older, despite all of my good health habits, health problems are more likely to pop up than when I was 25. Of course, that’s obvious. But when my shoulder starts to throb, or my wife gets sick, or I develop a new concern, I find myself feeling distressed. It can seem like a good life can become a miserable one quickly.
So how can we cope with sudden changes of fortune when circumstances go from good to bad?
- Life is change. It’s good to remember this, especially when circumstances are either good or bad. Everything changes from one state of affairs to another. Reflect back—many bad events turned into new opportunities. A break up is painful, but can later open up the possibility of a new, more enriching relationship. A loss of a job can result in finding a new position that is better than the old one.
- Don’t project into the future. It is a natural tendency for many adults to project what they feel today into the future. What if I am permanently disabled? What if I always feel down? What if my shoulder always hurts? Focus on today—hope for a better day tomorrow.
- Acknowledge your feelings. My wife was feeling dreadfully sorry for herself, as I was for her. She was worried and so was I. These distressing feelings have to have their day and it is important to let them be. They will eventually change too, just like the weather in Washington.
- Perspective is helpful. I can remember many times in the past when my life changed on a dime. Many of the situations that I worried over turned out differently than I imagined. With the perspective of time, we learn that many circumstances find their own natural resting place in our life.
- Human beings are highly adaptable. We are amazing creatures. We can adapt too many challenging circumstances and find ways of compensating. Don’t underestimate your adaptive ability.
- Seek help and support from others. Let friends and family know what you are going through. Support and warm wishes often come from surprising places.