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November 2, 2012

Personal Matters: Adapting positively to aging life's changes

Perhaps you have crippling rheumatoid arthritis or have suffered an automobile accident injury, or, as you have aged, suffer from constant back pain or osteoporosis.

Whatever the cause may be, you now find that you cannot do all the everyday activities you once did easily — walk, go up and down steps, drive your car, shop for groceries, or perform your job. As a result, you most likely experience feelings of depression and hopelessness because the person you once were – healthy, strong and independent – seems lost forever.

These feelings are not uncommon for people who experience an unexpected physical change. They represent the emotional struggle of living with illness or disability when the core issues of who you are as a person are challenged. These feelings can lead to a kind of tunnel vision, an ‘all or nothing’ perspective on your life. You may think “I am now a dependent person” or “I’m going to be totally independent, no matter what.”

In reality, illness or physical disability usually creates a new way of life in which you are dependent some of the time, and independent part of the time. For example, you may need to be dependent on someone to do your grocery shopping, or on having a grocery make deliveries to you, but you can be independent enough to keep an inventory, develop your list, store the food away, and do your own cooking.

This is a realistic and emotionally healthy approach to illness and disability: focusing on what you can do, and feeling empowered by that, while using your creativity to manage the things you can not do. Unfortunately, this kind of positive and empowered life management does not always come easily. You may, and understandably so, be so psychologically overwhelmed by the changes in your body and in your life that you feel almost everything is beyond your capabilities.

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