GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 2, 2012

Personal Matters: Adapting positively to aging life's changes

Personal Matters By Susan Britt
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — 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.

If you are overwhelmed and currently unable to cope well, then physical-centered psychotherapy may be helpful to you. With this specialized counseling, you can maximize your ability to heal and to function well, physically and emotionally, by learning:

To talk openly about your feelings, frustrations and your condition;

To be realistic about which situations require you to rely on others, and for which activities you are able to be independent;

To reduce stress and frustration with regular, daily relaxation techniques.

To stay socially active, if not in person then by telephone, email and social media;

To tap into your internal emotional resources for help and support as well as from family, friends, institutions, organizations and the community.

To become an educated and empowered advocate of your own health. There are myriad organizations now that can meet your needs on many levels. Many medical facilities now offer pain management programs, and your physician may be able to refer you to the appropriate professionals.

You can find more specific information about your own situation online, or if you do not have online access ask others (libraries may be of help) to help you find the information you need. Stay actively involved in developing the emotional skills you need to cope.

Consistently acting on your own behalf is not only empowering — it will provide you the emotional strength and creativity you will need to reinvent your life in a positive and energized way.

Based in Rockport, Life Coach and psychotherapist Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at susanbritt1@verizon.net and by telephone at 978 546-9431.