At some point in our life, we have to stop assuming that we can “just” do whatever we want. Sometimes we can’t “just” run to the store or “just” pick up the house. Sometimes it’s a bigger deal to get it done. Sometimes we expect this change to happen and sometimes it takes us completely by surprise. No matter how it happens, it’s an adjustment that we are forced to make whether we like it or not. It’s just the reality of it.
I think, for most of our life, we go along doing what we want to do or what we have to do without thinking too much about it. We go to school, we go to work, we go to the store, and we go out with friends. All of these things are done without too much thought. We’re in the habit of doing things we have to do, like cleaning the house or going to the grocery store. Most of the time, we just think of these things as necessary and get irritated if we don’t have the time or don’t really feel like doing it. If we get invited to a party or want to go to an event, we decide if we want to go or not.
At some point, however, some of these choices are either taken away from us completely or the choices become much more difficult to make. Sometimes it happens when we least expect it, like when it is due to an accident or an injury. This requires an abrupt change in lifestyle and a complete adjustment to how we have to manage our life versus how life used to be. Sometimes it’s a gradual process, for instance as we age. We know we’re just not quite as capable as we used to be or not quite as quick as we used to be but we learn to adjust to things over time and it’s accepted as a normal process. Sometimes, as with chronic illness, these choices are taken away from us and we can’t really explain it very well.
In all of these instances, life changes and we must learn to adjust to our new reality. Nobody wants to be in this position and nobody has asked for this. Sometimes we can blame our new reality on something specific like an accident or debilitating illness and we have something to be angry at. We have a name that we can blame, something that people understand and that can be easily explained. The other times, the times when there is no good reason for our declining functionality, results in a frustration that is not easily dealt with. That doesn’t help us and it’s just another adjustment that we have to make.
I can speak from a perspective of both aging and having a chronic illness. I can say that I am super frustrated daily. My life has changed in many ways over the past years and I’m not real happy about it. I will adapt, but not easily. Who wants to change their life in a negative way? I certainly didn’t want to give up working when I was finally at a place (and salary) in my career that I wanted to be and had worked toward my whole life. I’m not happy to be in an uphill financial battle with the government (which is woefully inadequate btw). I’m not happy to have to worry, every single day, about what I can and cannot do. Most of all, I’m not happy that these choices were not my doing and not mine to make; the choice was taken from me. We don’t like having choices taken away from us.
From what I have learned, it appears that people with chronic illness tend to be more of a Type A personality, which I definitely am. I’m also stubborn. It makes it much harder for me to admit that I don’t have control over many things in my life anymore and that I’m not able to always just do what I want to do. Dealing with our lack of control is as much of an issue as any other disability, loss of function, or impairment. As I’m aging, I’m also finding that I can’t do things the same way that I used to do them, which I continue to be surprised about…each and every time. You’d think I’d learn after awhile. I can’t multi-task quite nearly as well and things take longer than they used to, so I don’t get as much done. I still have pretty high expectations of myself so I find that I’m constantly being disappointed. One would think that, at some point, I would realize that this is now my “new” life, relax, and learn to adapt. It’s not always that easy.
Many of us, for various reasons, have to live with the reality that there is no such thing as “just” getting something done anymore. Every day when we get up, we make a choice of what we can do. Sometimes that choice needs to be adjusted as the day goes on. When I make a decision to go grocery shopping, it’s not “just” going shopping; it’s making sure I’m up for the walking, lifting, and driving and have nothing else that has to get done. If I make a commitment to do something, I need to plan ahead and do the best that I can do to feel well enough and hope it stays that way. There are so many factors that play into how we live our lives that I couldn’t possibly list all the possible considerations. It’s discouraging enough to have to make concessions, so please be understanding if someone has difficulty or needs to change plans.
We all have varying circumstances; sometimes these changes are temporary and sometimes they are permanent. Either way, we all have our own set of limitations and do the best that we can to live within them. Adjusting to these changes isn’t easy and we need to understand how this affects people. I know it’s easy to be impatient when people are moving slowly in the grocery store or filling out forms, but it’s important to remember that they’re not doing these things to ruin your day. They’re doing the best that they can. I like to think that we are here to help each other out when we need it, but certainly the very least that we can do is not make their situation worse through our impatience or misunderstanding. For those of you that are struggling daily, take care of yourself in the best way that you can. The rest of us will be just fine. All of us are going to be older one day or have issues that make things a bit harder. Hopefully the people around us will be understanding and supportive of us when we need it as well.