Our New Normal and Accepting Change in 2020...and 2021
I think it is fair to say that in 2020, we all, in some way or another, have been pushed outside of our comfort zones, forced to adapt to new, and often challenging situations. The ongoing pandemic has changed our work lives, our social lives, and our home lives quite significantly.
Although I was working from home before the pandemic, I have now had to get used to overhearing my 2- and 6- year old children throughout the day, usually a combination of joyful shrills and screams of discontentment, both of which can be rather distracting. My husband and I have had to adjust to being full-time, at-home working parents while learning to teach our 6-year old first grade. And let me tell you, that first grade math is NOT what it used to be! Social outings have turned into “Zoom happy hours,” attempting to serve the same purpose, but not as fulfilling as getting out of the house to socialize. We’ve also had to accept that some of this may become the “new normal” – we may be wearing masks when we go out more often than not, virtual learning and working may become a part of the norm, and participating in extracurricular activities and therapy sessions via Zoom may become more appealing to most, and the option more chosen.
Taking Control of Our Situations – Redefining Our Purpose
When someone has experienced something that has completely changed their lives, like a stroke or brain injury, there is no doubt that it changes their lives (and those around them) forever. You are placed in a world of unknown, and confusion, trying to sort your way through what seems to be winding, endless paths of suggestion and recommendations. You have been forced to change, whether you wanted to or not, which you have control over accepting…or not.
My dad always told me, which I believe was a quote from someone or somewhere, that “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” It was a powerful lesson for me, and has been the reminder in my life that things may not go my way, as there are certainly things beyond my control, but I at least have the control and power over how I respond. I can let it torment me, feel bad for myself, ask why me….OR I can look at it as an opportunity for change, an opportunity for improvement, an experience that will make me stronger and redefine my life. And this is what I try to encourage each and every one of my patients to do….acknowledging that this is way easier said than done…
For example, let's say before your stroke, you may have been a man of few words, who tended to passively enjoy social gatherings, doing more listening than talking, and got by without having to verbalize too much. But now, you’ve had a stroke, you have Aphasia, and it’s become quite challenging to communicate. Now you decide not to talk at all, hide out in your comfort zone of listening, although processing the conversation has become equally as challenging, and float by. This is ultimately your choice.
However, I encourage you, who was once the man of few words, to become a man of many attempted words. You may have been introverted before, but now you need to force yourself to talk, to many people (familiar and unfamiliar) so that YOU can get better. Talking is the best (and cheapest) therapy….talking will improve your talking. You might need to change who you were before your stroke or brain injury, at least in some ways, in order to maximize your recovery. However, when your communication improves, and you’re content with where you are at, by all means please return to your introverted “man of few words” self. You pushed yourself OUT OF your comfort zone, into uncomfortable situations, allowing yourself to change, to learn, to grow as a survivor, and as a human being, redefining your purpose and your mission.
Simple Changes Leading to Acceptance – Acceptance Allowing for Change
I think it’s also important to set small, reachable goals when we’re talking about being pushed outside of our comfort zone. When trying to rehabilitate yourself, I think establishing a schedule is very important, but I think it’s also important to be open minded and willing to change your routine. For example, exercise in the evenings rather than in the mornings one day a week, or shift your morning routine to include a few minutes of meditation rather than turning on the television to watch the news. Change is good for everyone. Encourage everyone in your family to make a change in their daily habits by sitting at a different seat at the dinner table – we all have that seat that we sit in, routinely, for every meal. But why? Because it’s what we’re used to, it’s what we do….but how about a new view, a new perspective, a new experience, which in the end, is also great for your mind. It’s a simple change, but can be a powerful one.
Acceptance might be easier once you learn to adapt and make some of these changes, or perhaps we need to be more accepting of our current situation first, in order to be willing to make such changes. I have heard from some of my past patients with Aphasia that it wasn’t until they learned to accept their situation that they were able to make positive changes, allowing them to make meaningful improvements. Acceptance is a process, and can be a long one….so I encourage you to think of it in this way, a process, rather than viewing it as a destination, or a journey’s end. We don’t simply wake up one day and say, “Ok, I had a stroke. I have a lot of trouble communicating. That’s cool….I’m good with this.” However, it’s also important to acknowledge that just because we are accepting our current situations does not mean we’re giving up. Rather, it’s opening up our path, our positive path to allow for new learning, new growth, a new normal. It gives us that opportunity to unlock our new lives and discover our strengths…discover our exceptional self. We can’t be defined by “perceived restrictions,” – IN other words, just because we’re in a wheelchair, does not mean we won’t walk again. Just because we have trouble formulating our thoughts and getting our words out fluently does not mean we won’t give one hell of a speech one day. We can’t let our situations, or what others expect from our situation, define us. There are no boundaries, no limits to recovery. Believe in yourself. Accept and embrace the journey…one day at a time….