“The One Constant in our Life is Change”

 

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.

~ Dan Gilbert

Being in the grip of a crisis can be all consuming. So much so that whatever problem we are facing can eclipse all other perspectives about our lives.

As Rachel found when she was losing her hair, it is difficult, if not impossible, to think about anything else or to imagine that the pain, physical or otherwise, will ever go away. And yet, these days, even though she now has total hair loss (alopecia universalis), she is in a completely different, positive, place – one that she could not possibly have imagined six months ago.

In his TED talk (see link below), Dan Gilbert explains why this might be. He shows how we find it relatively easy to remember what sort of person we were 10 years ago and in contrast, how difficult it is for us to imagine ourselves in 10 years’ time. We underestimate the extent to which our lives will change and, indeed, are changing minute by minute.

So how can we make use of this finding? How does the concept of constant change fit with what we said in this post about accepting the reality of life and dealing with what is in the here and now?

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.

~ Søren Kierkegaard

I think the two go hand in hand. Let me illustrate with more reflections on Rachel’s situation.

During the short period when she was experiencing rapid and massive hair loss, we often found ourselves talking about how things might be in the future. Would she lose all her hair? What would that be like? Would it grow back? And on, and on. When we caught ourselves in this type of conversation, it was helpful to step back and recognise that, not only was it doing no good whatsoever, but also that it was utterly pointless because we had no way of knowing what would happen from one day to the next. We forced ourselves to take the ‘it is what it is’ approach day by day. That was our way of recognising and accepting the reality of the moment.

What we could also have done was use Dan Gilbert’s argument to think about the difference between the Rachel of today, and the Rachel of 10 years ago.

If I think about this as I type in relation to myself right now, what comes to mind is that I was much slimmer 10 years ago, but also less confident, less at peace with myself. I would say that I am a very different person now to my past self. And, of course, I am a different person to the one I was just a minute a go. Skin cells have died; blood cells have moved; toe nails have grown.

It can be a comfort in the midst of coping with a challenge to remember that all things change. Everything is impermanent. There is never a static moment where we can sit back and think ‘ah, now all my troubles are over’. We humans have a remarkable capacity for resilience and for finding a way to keep putting one foot in front of the other. How helpful it can be to take those steps with the thought that things will, at some point, be different.

The best way out is always through.

~ Robert Frost

Oh boy! Where do I start? Change has most certainly been the one constant in my life.  Since my teenage years I have changed my direction annually and it has been both exciting and exhausting and not only for me but my family too. Having alopecia is the most recent change (albeit not the most serious) that was not my choice to make.  However when looking back over the years, some of my hair choices… well, check out for yourself my ‘thank you‘ video I made for my Facebook friends and family just days after the main loss of my hair, to see whether they were good or bad choices.  Even in this film, you will see I have hair fluff.  A couple of days later, I had a close head shave and it has never returned.  It was a step by step process but once my hair had gone completely, I was able to move forward emotionally and practically.

….. if you realize you’ve made a bad decision, you change it.

~ Richard Branson

Although the choices I made about what to do with my hair on this occasion were not bad, with Liz’s support I was able to stay objective and change my mind (sometimes hourly) about the next decision. Accepting change is key to dealing with a crisis.

Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.

~C S Lewis

14 Comments

  1. Dear Liz and Rachel. I enjoyed reading this post. The thoughts behind it are really valid. I will try and think how I have changed in the last ten years but I may be an ostrich about the changes that might occur in the next 10! Keep up the writing. It is excellent. xx

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  2. Another wonderful, thought-provoking post. Don & I read it together at Starbucks this morning, which allowed us to continue the dialogue about how we imagine our future, how we embrace the changes in our lives. Kudos to both you and Rachel for “changing the conversation.”

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  3. Thank-you both for such a thought-provoking and helpful post! My daughter has chronic anxiety as you may know, and we are continually having to help her through any decisions she has to make or, to help her cope with any sudden change of routine imposed on her. She cannot move forward because of all the what-ifs. Until she has accepted that there is no way of knowing if any of the future scenarios she has imagined will ever happen she will continue to be fearful and angry. Meanwhile, the world about her is changing and the list of what-ifs change too.
    I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis many years ago so I have had it over half my life. I can remember the shock and misery I felt though this was tempered by my then recent marriage break-up! It didn’t take long for the RA to become ‘normal for me’ though of course as with any chronic illness, that illness has to be considered when any other decision has to be made. You both must know all about this! I have found that over the years I have become so used to it I can forget about it, and so when I am asked how I have been by my specialist, or when others notice my hands, for example, I am often at a loss how to respond. I am now at an age when the use of powerful painkillers and other strong drugs over many years is showing up as problems with my digestion and liver function. This has set me off on my own ‘what-if’ journey, not helped by my loving family adding their own take on my problem! I am trying to keep calm and put my trust in the doctors and nurses who care for me and in my faith in God, who I believe will give me the strength to cope with anything that happens.

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    1. Thank you so much, Clare, for writing so openly and movingly about the challenges you face. When we started this blog, we wanted to provide help and support for people, whatever difficulties they might be experiencing. It is humbling for us both to know that you found this post to be useful. The opportunity to share experiences and ways of coping is one of the joys of this blogging community. We appreciate very much your contribution to that dialogue and look forward to continuing our journeys together.

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        1. “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
          ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
          xxx

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  4. I was teaching at Uni in hot Brisbane Australia when my hair fell out in great clumps and I was diagnosed with Alopecia. Due to the hot climate it was impossible to wear a hat or wig. My patchy hairloss casused me remarkable and unexpected distress. I fronted up to class and announced my Alopecia status supplying a few facts. I painted a picture that clearly demonstrated my many life stressors. I shaved my head and made massive life changes, leaving my 5 year relationship, friends, two jobs and the city of Brisbane. I moved to the quiet beautiful layed back Byron Bay and booked in to a mindful meditation retreat where I not only learnt how to better manage my emotions but also met my current partner of 20years. Although I have had some extreme stress working in mental health and encountered being bullied, I have not had a reoccurrence of Alopecia and I put this down to my practice of mindful meditation. I sometime wonder if I would have made any of those major changes had my body not sung out to me with such undeniable signs.

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    1. Hi Susan, thanks so much for such an interesting and comprehensive comment, which we both found very moving. You have inspired various thoughts about subjects for future posts in which, if it is ok with you, we would like to quote you – would you have any problems with that? xxx

      Liked by 1 person

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