Massive Change; an event that has such a huge impact on your life, every moment of it, how you live it and how you define yourself, that you are a different person than the one you were previously. It can happen to anyone at any time and is not because of karma, or due to some terrible thing they have done to “deserve it”. What goes around very rarely comes around, and accepting this is often the first stage in coming to terms with the person you are becoming. Accepting that you need to re-invent yourself allows you to start to create a new future, a new picture of positivity and a reason to continue that can, initially, seem impossible.
When I was twenty six, I had a bad car accident which resulted in me being a wheelchair user for more than a decade. I couldn’t possibly have predicted or prepared in advance for such a massive change. I had to re-invent everything I had assumed would be my life and re-invent who I was going to be if my life was to continue in a positive and worth-while (in my view) way that I could be proud of and happy in.
It took every ounce of courage, support and a massive learning curve of ups and downs to get out of that wheelchair; I achieved it only because I decided to embrace the situation, make a new life for us as a family and re-invent myself. I took a promotion at work of seven grades – no small steps up a ladder for me now, I was flying up the ramp! I travelled all around the world, organising conferences and looking after important clients. It was a job I adored and it proved I could DO so much, despite my dis-ability. It taught me I could be this new, re-invented Dinah, a woman who overcame the restrictions of a wheelchair by taking on a job that required her to travel thousands of miles a year, without buying into limiting beliefs.
When I had my series of heart attacks in my mid forties, the same re-invention of self was required. I had reached a place where I was confident and credible in my work, I had established a reputation and was in the position where I could choose whom I worked with. And then another massive change decided to shake things up again. I had to stop. Not just rest a bit and take a short break. Stop completely for two years. No work, no stress, just getting well and giving my heart a chance to recover from surgery. Massive Change.
This June is was four years since my surgery; the physical scars healed much faster than the emotional ones. The emotional pain can still come to the surface if I give it the space. I am not a fan of regrets or looking back, and this can be one of the great challenges of massive change.
Here are my top tips for getting through the first twelve months after massive change:
1) Give yourself time. More time than you think “everyone else” would take.
2) Comparing yourself to others, or to the You before your massive change is not helpful and this is a great time to stop this habit. I know it’s not easy, nothing is easy when you’re going through something this huge, so suck-it up and just drop the self-deprecating “I’m not good enough” crap, it won’t help, ever. You need to be disciplined about this one. More than anything else, when you repeat a negative message to yourself, you won’t be able to make the step forward required to actually believe in the change yourself. All the positive outward “I am fine” stuff is pointless if you’re telling yourself it’s not true.
3) Anger is hugely negative when you bottle it up, particularly when the person you are angry with in these situations is often yourself. You have every right to feel anger and, in a society where we’re taught anger is a negative thing, something we have to control at all costs, it can be hard to let it go. I used to go somewhere that I could have a good, loud shout when I was first in my wheelchair. I was spotted more than once in Richmond Park on a cold morning shouting at the ducks! It worked though, and allowed me to release what might otherwise have consumed me. Holding in your anger is dangerous and, while appreciate letting it out can be too, I’m suggesting you look for a SAFE way to express it, without that impacting anyone’s wellbeing. Including your own.
4) Stop looking for the answers. “Why did this happen to me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” and “If I had/hadn’t done …. do you think this wouldn’t have happened?” There is no positive answer to any of these questions, and looking for reasons will often leave you more negative and self-absorbed. What matters when massive change impacts us is not so much why it happened as what we do about it when it has. When our daughter was very small, we knew it was important to let her express how much our massive change had impacted our lives; we had one day a month where the whole family talked about how unfair it was that I was in a wheelchair. We talked about the fact that I was the only mum who couldn’t take part at Sports Day, and that it was really hard to go shopping together because I couldn’t get my chair into some of her favourite stores. We called it our “Why me day” and it allowed all of us to express our frustrations at living with the impacts of massive change.
5) Let yourself change. I sounds simple enough, but accepting a new “you” is a huge challenge for most of us. We may believe we avoid labelling others, but there are many labels we give ourselves to define who we are. Often leaving a job we’ve held for a long time can be an example of that feeling of not knowing who we are anymore; when I couldn’t wear my corporate “badge” anymore, I was lost about how to introduce myself. It can feel frightening to see that you are a new person, that perhaps you’re going to be seen differently by others. Once you allow yourself to change and start to feel comfortable with the new person you’re becoming, you’ll find the changes become easier.
Have you had massive changes in your life that have required you to re-invent the person you thought you were? I’d love to hear your techniques for re-inventing your life after massive change.