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