Awhile back, I happened to look at the calendar and realized, with a start, that I was attending a wedding exactly 35 years ago that day. My own.
I remember that period around the middle of 1980 through the end of 1981. It was the last time, before my recent retirement and move across the country, that I navigated multiple life-altering changes in a relatively short period of time.
My parents sold the house where I grew up in mid-1980. They always wanted to sell the house and travel around the country when they retired. My younger brother had moved out on his own (well, on his own and about a hundred roommates, but that’s a story for a different day), but I still had a year or so of college to finish. My parents, two basset hounds, and I moved into a 27-foot travel trailer. We lived in the trailer full time in a campground across the street from Disneyland. I went to school, studied, worked a job part-time, tried to apply for and interview for post-graduation “career type jobs,” and planned my wedding from that travel trailer. We all lived together, ate together, watched television together for a year. There was no place to put anything (which was a special challenge when one considers the incredible amount of paraphernalia involved in organizing a wedding). Most of my worldly goods resided in a storage facility. There was no privacy. My “bedroom” was the dinette area that converted to a bed once any of the three of us decided it was time to go to sleep.
People thought our living situation was kind of weird, but it did make some sense in the big picture. My parents were beginning to live their “live in a camper and travel the nation” dream, albeit without the “travel the nation” part of it… yet. “As soon as we get rid of Terri,” (as they told anyone and everyone for the entire year of this limbo), “we are going to take off and be on our way.”
Between the end of May and the middle of August in 1981, I graduated from college, started working full-time at my college job, got married, and switched jobs to an extremely responsible “career type” government position (which, despite the fact that it involved constantly making decisions that impacted on people’s actual lives, paid virtually the same amount as my college “undersecretary clerical gopher” job). My parents hit the road, literally and figuratively. These were the days before cell phones, social media, and email. For about six months, my only communication with them were occasional letters (you remember, with the folded paper and envelope?) and cassette tapes we would make to send each other.
By the end of 1981, I think I already knew my marriage had been a horrible mistake and I was absorbed in the exhausting work of trying to pretend I didn’t already know it.
That interlude in 1980-1981 was the last time I went through multiple major changes in my life. Yes, certainly I navigated changes since then- a divorce, two moves, a couple of different jobs. All those changes, though, came more-or-less, one at a time. Each change was more like someone throwing a pebble into my life and watching the mild ripples rather than having changes crash unrelenting like waves on the shore of my life. The good news about singular changes is that they can become the focus of your life for a time. You can cogitate, analyze, grieve, and strategize about how to deal with them. You can reach out for sympathy. You can even turn your life into your own little soap opera for awhile, if you want. The bad news about singular changes is that you can also obsess over every little detail and become the object of pity.
When you find yourself in the tornado alley of change, you don’t really have the time to analyze and react to each one individually. Sometimes, the more you try to get your feet back under you and control things, the more changes seem to occur. Instead of focusing on the individual change and figuring out how you feel about it and how you are going to react, you tend to focus on the general whirlwind. Your brain begins to feel like a tornado itself. You feel too dizzy to see any way out. You have to seem pitiful, even to the point of tedium, to your friends. Let’s face it, even the best friends have some point at which they can no longer stand doling out sympathy and advice that doesn’t seem to be doing you any good.
Interesting that I’m finally able to “compare and contrast” the single change experience with the multi-leveled change twister. It has been over a two years since I plowed my way through the tornado alley of retiring, moving, and taking over my mother’s caretaking. I’m starting to feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Maybe, in some small ways, I’ve finally come through the storms and the house of my life has landed back on the ground. I’m wary when I say it, but I think I’ve managed my way through the worst of it. It has been an exhausting ride. Even though most of these changes were the result of my own choices, the stress has been way more than I ever imagined.
Why has it been so difficult? I think I’ve just figured it out. The last time I handled this sort of life-altering multi-level change was 35 years ago. When it came to facing the changes of the past couple of years, I clearly lacked practice!
So what do you think? Have you gotten better at managing change with practice? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can leave me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope your topsy-turvies don’t leave you upside down today!
2 thoughts on “Practice Makes Perfect”
My experience with dealing with multiple changes at a time has been a mixed one. While normal life and its challenges were occurring, I’ve also been dealing with two chronic illnesses for most of this last decade, both weakening me and one necessitating brain surgery last year. I felt so vulnerable much of the time, weakened physically by the debilitating effects of the illnesses and my natural optimism dimmed by the pain and also the isolation that often comes along with a debilitating illness. It was a sad truth to learn that there may be a reason for that stereotype of the crabby older person. Constant pain does change your brain and impact your emotions. It’s hard to feel in control when you make decisions from a position of weakness and not strength. Yet, those problems were balanced by my enforced constant practice at deciphering what was really important to me and what could be released. My energy stores were so low that I had to decide where and with whom to spend them. That can be an enlightening–a deliberate play on the idea of “lightening” or minimalizing your life–endeavor. I’m fortunate that my brain surgery was successful, although its effects may not be permanent, and I’m regaining strength and my own natural optimism. While shaking off some of the weakness, though, I’m grateful to retain my sense of what’s important to me and to focus my life’s energies on those people, because “people” describes all the “things” that turned out to be important. Letting go of being in control of my life, of presenting myself to the world in the way I wanted to present myself and, sometimes, even of being the myself that I thought I was, turned out to be valuable.
Hi, Linda! Thanks for raising such interesting points. I’m sure most of us have a hard time facing the fact that health issues and aging do take a toll on our ability to do everything we used to do and handle everything we have to face in life. I’m sorry you have had to deal with your health challenges. You say they have impacted your natural optimism. I noticed, though, that you are still able to recognize and articulate the valuable lessons learned from your journey. That sounds prett optimistic to me!
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