Dear Dr. Norquist:
I am so unhappy and mad at myself lately. I find myself irritable, pushing my family away, complaining about everything. I had a stroke last spring, and all these problems have happened since then. I’m so afraid now of having another stroke, and dying. Also, because of the stroke, I can no longer do what I used to do. If I need to go out, I have to ask someone to go with me and help me. This is so humiliating. In the past I was always so busy with friends and traveling and classes. I used to walk every day for exercise. Now just getting dressed is difficult. My children and grandchildren try to be helpful sometimes, but they don’t understand how hard it is for me. Just speaking clearly takes a lot of effort. My life feels miserable. I don’t know how to feel better. Do you have any advice for me?
Dr. Norquist responds:
You have been forced to deal with changes that would be difficult for anyone to readily accept. Stripped of many things that most of us take for granted (the ability to easily walk, speak, dress ourselves, and go out on our own), loss and limitations are frequent companions now. You must allow yourself to mourn these losses and come to accept what is.
Through this experience, you can learn how you are much more than your physical body. When our bodies are healthy and strong, we spend most of our time focusing on doing. We think attaining material goods or fame is important. We also spend our time “doing” to avoid feelings such as sadness, boredom, or loneliness. As a result, we gradually lose touch with ourselves. We no longer know the sense of fullness and peace that exists in silence within ourselves. When we are struggling with physical limitations (as you are), we are no longer able to spend most of our time doing. Instead, we have to face our restless minds, feelings of uselessness, unfulfilled desires, dependence on others, and helplessness.
To attain any true relief, any peace, you have to rely on your own internal resources. This is the opportunity you have before you now. Stop and be with yourself. Embrace what is. Turn within for your strength. These limitations force you to look elsewhere for your happiness. They can help to re-orient you in the right direction. Ironically, these limitations can help you to experience a much richer and deeper sense of contentment than would have been yours had this situation not entered your life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2013 Chaitanya Counseling Services