Many changes in life are exciting and positive. But as we age, transitions are increasingly accompanied by feelings of loss, sadness or decline. For instance, a woman may lose the ability to drive a car. Or a husband becomes his wife’s full-time caregiver after she has a stroke.
Each of these events requires adaptation. We’re forced to create a new normal that centers on declining health, moving to a smaller home, leaving behind friendships, quitting activities we’ve enjoyed or caring for an ailing spouse.
Too often we’re reluctant to accept the altered status quo. We feel like failures. We’re angry about what’s happened. We deny that our lives will have to be different. We rationalize that our problems aren’t as serious as everyone thinks. We refuse to discuss the situation with our doctors or grown children.
Defiance is understandable and healthy — to apoint. It’s a personal expression of strength, a desire to keep on living.
Too much denial, though, causes problems. It creates stress as we try to perform tasks we can no longer manage. It encourages us to assume unrealistic responsibilities, such as hosting family gatherings or going on long trips. It impedes the process of finding satisfaction and making connections that are within our realm.
Denial may even endanger our safety or the well-being of others. My father-in-law had trouble accepting his wife’s declining mental and physical health; as a result she fell several times in the bathtub, injuring both herself and her caretaker.
Rather than living in denial, it would be better to identify and accept our situation as quickly as possible. Then establish an everyday routine. Of course, it can take awhile for a scenario to fully develop. And more changes may be on the way. Still, setting a new normal is the first step to reclaiming control of your life.
HOW TO CREATE A NEW NORMAL
Identify your needs. Take stock of the changes you need to make. Then lay out a plan for how best to address them.
Welcome input. Talk to your doctor, adult children and friends. They’ll have a different perspective and be able to offer objective advice.
Prioritize. You can’t do everything at once. Decide what needs to get done right away and focus your energy there.
Lower expectations. Everything is different now: you may have less energy, declining physical abilities or increased demands on your time. Don’t get frustrated when you can’t perform at the level you once did. You’re still doing your best.
Find happiness. There is still a lot of joy everywhere you turn. Look for it on a daily basis.
Recognize change is temporary. Even as you establish a new normal, life is going to shift.
Plan ahead. Predicting which changes are in your future and taking appropriate steps minimizes surprises and keeps you in control.
Get professional help. If your grief is unrelenting, find a counselor who can help you find peace.
Be patient. A new normal doesn’t materialize overnight. It may take months, even years, to fully emerge. Hang in there. Keep trying. After all, this is your new life.