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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

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(Names and situations have been changed)

How we see ourselves and what we think we are capable of doing are very powerful forces. If we feel we can accomplish something, we are motivated to pursue it. Motivation can move mountains. Motivation has been known to reverse negative medical predictions and enable people to do what was thought impossible.

How a person perceives his abilities and disabilities strongly influences how a person acts, what he participates in, and what he accomplishes. How a person thinks he is seen as opposed to how we actually see him can make all the difference in what he strives for. His perception of himself has a strong influence on his future.

Simon was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Before this diagnosis, he swam, cycled in a seniors’ cycling group and loved to hike. He had noticed that he had slowed down, began to gravitate to the back of the hikers’ group, and often found that he could no longer keep up at the front of the cyclists. Still, he saw himself as capable of participating. He felt part of the group, and this was part of his identity before the diagnosis.

One day, a member of the hiking group who had not been there for months returned. When he saw Simon and noticed his deterioration he yelled, “What happened to you? Did you have a stroke while I was gone?” Simon was not only embarrassed, but suddenly realized that people
were seeing him in a very different light than he thought they were. That day, he went home and asked his wife if he looked as if he had a stroke? Was he as disabled as the fellow had indicated?

At that moment, Simon saw himself differently. He saw himself as a sick man who could no longer enjoy the activities he had enjoyed until the moment of the comment. He stopped participating in these groups. With his withdrawal came a loss of social interaction and physical participation. He decided that the disease would not let him be the man he had been before. At that moment, Simon lost his motivation to do anything and decided he was just a sick man. At that moment the disease won.

Louis liked to dance. He may not have been the best dancer, but he could certainly hold his own on the dance floor at weddings. He too had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. While adjusting to the diagnosis, he decided not to share the bad news with anyone just yet. At a recent wedding, while he thought he was dancing up a storm, a friend yelled across the room, “Hey Louis, can’t you dance anymore? Pick up the pace man!”

At that moment, Louis stopped dancing, walked off the dance floor, began questioning his abilities, and started taking stock of his losses. At that moment, Louis began to see himself differently. He now saw himself as a person who can’t as opposed to a person who can. At that moment, the disease won and Louis’ life changed forever.

Marvin’s chronic illness had taken him on a sudden downhill spiral. He had been confined to bed for months, and as a result his muscles had weakened from inactivity. Because of the long hospital stay and the nature of the illness, Marvin received notice that his driver’s license was revoked pending passing a driving test.

The doctor’s told Marvin’s wife that the chances of his regaining his muscle strength was highly unlikely. Marvin’s wife asked the doctors not to share this news with Marvin. She felt that he was very suggestible and that the information would devastate him and force him to lose his motivation to get better. She constantly agreed with Marvin about his recovery, encouraging him to exercise and do whatever he could for himself. Today, Marvin is driving once again.

Bella was told she should get her affairs in order as she had little time left on this earth. When pressed by Bella, the doctors told her she had three months to live. Bella died exactly three months later.

Morris was told he had three months to live. Marvin had a fighting personality. He told the doctors they were fools and that he had no intention of passing away in three months. Ten years later, Morris is still alive, and the doctors don’t understand it.

Your perception of yourself defines the boundaries you live with. How you see yourself is influenced by many factors. Not the least of these factors is how others perceive you and the message they give you about yourself. More importantly, though, is what we choose to tell ourselves, what we choose to believe about ourselves, and what we challenge. Motivation and a realistic belief in ourselves and our abilities have been known to move mountains. Letting someone outside yourself define your limitations moves nothing, least of all yourself.

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More Articles from Ann Novick

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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