Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 8-04-2021
“As of now, I do not recognize myself, but that is okay. I hope I am always changing, and for the better.” -EaE
“I’m not myself anymore”. I have heard this line quite often, both in clinical settings and when having deep discussions with friends and family. My take? Why is this such a bad thing? To be different? To have undergone changes after the different events that take place in our lives? Are we supposed to stay the same? Do we expect that we will stay the same over the course of our lives? Perhaps, it is that we are grieving our old identities and the traits we cherished the most, that dissipated over time. Regardless of the reason(s), we will change overtime, and if the acceptance of this fact is constantly resisted, we will suffer more.
The most important thing to recognize when undergoing life changes and adjustments is how we will be required to adjust and adapt our lifestyles accordingly. This is where the most resistance tends to happen. As human beings, we tend to want to hang onto our habits, routines, and lifestyles. However, as we change environmentally, physiologically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally it may force us to also have to change our lifestyles. Why? Because the above changes create both new abilities, as well as new limitations. Self-insight is crucial as we undergo these changes.
There are many changes/ factors that could potentially contribute to new limitations in our lives. The issue is that societally speaking, we are often shamed for our limitations and expected to push past them ‘at all costs’. I cannot stress enough that no one will know how you are suffering quite like yourself, and you must listen to your body and mind if it no longer has the capacity to do something you were once able to do. This should not lead to shame, but rather, life adjustments. Life adjustments so that we may prolong our mental and physical health. That is actually the purpose of how limitations may serve us: long-term health. Limitations WILL happen organically overtime as we grow, enter new phases of life and/ or age. But, limitations may also happen unexpectedly with life trauma’s, grievances, stressors and/ or tragedies.
This can include but is not limited to losing loved ones, job loss, natural disasters, legal stressors, financial stressors, acute medical conditions, assault, mental illness onset, having children, caregiving for family members/ friends and so on. Unfortunately, even with these added stressors and barriers to self-care, our environmental circumstances and societal expectations will rarely change on a whim. Meaning the cost of things stays the same, the demand of work hours stays the same and we rarely have time to tend to ourselves in a time of crisis or chronic stress.
Perhaps the most important question of all is: “What are you willing to change and shift in your life so that you may prioritize yourself first?” Granted, this is not a question that is ever really asked to us, and it is not a question we ask ourselves. We are rarely in the practice of considering our health and mental health. We are rarely in the practice of giving ourselves permission to lessen our loads. We have this choice, yet we do not realize it. Therefore, we will hardly make the necessary changes to relieve ourselves of burden.
On a positive note, as stated earlier, changes can also lead us to gain new abilities. As many people popularly discuss, adversity and stress can also polish us and help us gain strength and wisdom. This requires us to dig deep and search for the rainbows in even the harshest of storms. This does not negate the fact that all changes will come with adjustment stressors and growing pains. What it means, is that we humans are innovative and adaptable. We have the option of making lemonade out of sour lemons. We can grieve and cry while we build and adapt. We can somehow fall apart as we polish our pieces and put them back together, consecutively. This is how strong we are. We endure, we persevere.
New abilities we gain can include critical thinking skills, wisdom, kinetic knowledge, social skills, empathy, expanded worldview, patience, unconditional acceptance, protective boundaries, more meaningful relationships etc. With this being said, changes can be an incredible thing. How much are we willing to soak in and learn from our experiences? Can we see our bad fortune, also, as a learning experience that can help us later in life? Can we afford ourselves the time to heal from our trauma while also using it to bring forth new and worthwhile character traits?
The important question to ask ourselves here is: “How badly do we want to change and grow? For the better?” This may seem simple, but stuck points exist, and no one is immune to emotional pain or falling deep into a stuck point from time to time. What does a stuck point look like? It looks like losing hope, losing momentum, developing a 24/7 victim mentality, and losing all confidence that we have control over our livelihood. This is a horrible place to be, and a very hard hole to dig ourselves out of. To develop new abilities and positive changes we must learn to climb. This will look different for everyone, as our holes and our mountains vary in depths and size. Our resources and support systems as well as our ability to ask for help may also vary. Again, self-insight is crucial!
Yes, you will change, yes, it is normal. No, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, you will likely grieve while going through the changes. It is also necessary to reflect and adapt your lifestyle accordingly. Don’t hide or shy away from it, don’t fight it or resist. Take notes, be honest with yourself and others. Combat the shame others may throw your way. Remember despite the myths you are told; it is all a part of the process of growing/ aging in life. No, you do not owe anyone explanations, you owe yourself leniency and unconditional self-acceptance.