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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Distorted Reality

(Names Changed)

 

        We all have preconceived notions that we accept as real and never challenge. One of these is the concept of what is considered old. I have sat with a group of woman, and though many in the group qualified for a seniors discount, those that did, refused to acknowledge that they were that age. It was more important for them to maintain an imaginary age publicly, instead of getting the break financially. Those of us not in that age bracket could not believe it. Until the following year when the scene was repeated, only now we had more seniors who refused to acknowledge they were seniors and this included the very people who made fun of this group the year before. Interestingly, their view of being a senior seemed to change once they joined the ranks.

 

         Seniors today are certainly not the seniors I remember. Not only are seniors acting younger and doing more, but they are also actually a younger group. Once, you had to be the magic age of 65 to qualify for being a senior − when 65 was the usual retirement age. At that point, we the young and inexperienced, expected you to be too old to work and would go joyously to your rocking chairs. Today, more people are taking early retirement and the 50s is the age that many start second careers. There are many places that now identify you as a senior at the young age of 50 and let you qualify for many wonderful events and discounts. All you have to do is get past the word senior, in your mind, and not let it inhibit you from having fun.

 

         Shani was a former well spouse. Her husband had passed away just a year ago and she was adjusting to life as a widow. Fortunately for Shani, she no longer had to work. Now that the expenses for her husband’s care were gone, she found that if she was careful, she could live comfortably on her pension and Social Security. For a year now, she has been wondering how to fill her days. Caring for her husband had left her with no time for herself. Now that she had the time, she seemed to not remember how to use it.

 

         She had been asked to volunteer to visit the sick in her community and other illness-related tasks, at which  she was an expert. However, she just couldn’t bring herself to do that type of chesed right now. That was something she needed a break from. Along with helping out in her community in various ways, she wanted to have fun, make new friends and do different things she had not had time or energy for over the last few years. But, she did not know where to begin to find the things she wanted. Someone suggested she look into the seniors group at the local JCC. Shani was taken aback. After all she was only in her 50s and didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of 80-year-olds. What would they have in common? What were people thinking!

 

         A year later, in Shani’s well-spouse support group, Andrea also lost her husband and found herself going through the same journey as Shani. The difference was that, though only 55, Andrea wasn’t deterred by the title of “senior” and began to explore what the same JCC had to offer her. Yes there were older people in the building, but Andrea discovered that there were “seniors” there who were younger than she, as well. She was also open to who the person was and not the number of years they had been on this earth.

 

         Rather quickly, Andrea began to find many “senior” programs in which she wanted to participate. These groups had people of every age, but the common interests and wealth of experience made the group rich with diversity and knowledge. She started to fill her days with classes and activities. She made new friends. However, she could not get Shani past her concept of what a “senior” is  and join her. Today  Andrea is leading a new and fulfilling life. Shani is still looking for one.

 

         In any situation that faces you, it is important to challenge your preconceived notions and see what you are basing your decisions on. Perhaps they are based on something real and important. On the other hand, they may just be a reflection of something you once heard that has no basis in fact. If you refuse to examine your ideas and look into what is holding you back from going on with your life, you may be cutting yourself off for no reason, from a future that is wonderful and full. Just as Shani did.

 

         You can contact me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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