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Coping With Change

By Diane Berry #102219

Question: My spouse was recently diagnosed with a serious illness. I’m trying to stay positive and supportive, but sometimes I become terribly upset because this could mean having to change our RVing plans. What can I do to help us both through this process?

Dear Afraid:
Change can be frightening and even cause some people to fall into denial. When faced with an unwanted change, we are tempted to stick our head in the sand and pretend things are still the same. However, that is not the best approach, and it can prevent us from coping productively and effectively.

When an unexpected change occurs, your first plan of action should be to take care of yourself. As your spouse’s primary support person, much of the responsibility to stay positive is on you. As difficult as that can be, there are ways to make this process easier. Here are ideas on where and how to begin.

Educate Yourself
When there is a medical diagnosis, arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can tolerate. This will help you know what to expect and to prepare for what is to come. Your spouse may want you to share this information with him or her in the future, but, even if they do not, you are likely to feel more empowered and prepared if you have an idea what to expect, both from the disease and from the treatment.

Get Support
As you have already discovered, it can be difficult to cope with a serious medical diagnosis. Being aware that your life may be changing, yet not knowing what will be different, can be more frightening than making yourself aware of what is likely to change.

Becoming informed should help, but you also want to build up your own support system so you have someone to rely on and to help build you up. If you have close friends or family nearby, they can be an excellent source of support. If you do not, you may want to consider support groups or to find a way to connect with spouses of others who have been diagnosed with the same illness. Your spouse’s doctor may be able to help. Online friends or acquaintances can be a source of support as well. You may also want to reach out to all your contacts who are helpful so that when one support person is not available, another may be.

Talk About It
If your spouse does not want to know too much about his or her illness, you two can still talk realistically about the changes you are both facing. The illness and treatment may necessitate altering your lifestyle. If your partner is no longer able to drive, perhaps you can become the driver. There may come a time that you need to be available for regular treatments, so you can no longer take off for long trips.

Talking honestly about the changes that are happening for both of you will enable you to make realistic plans.

Make A List
While some changes may be necessary, there are likely to be many activities you can still enjoy together. While you may need to do the driving, the two of you will still be able to travel.

If you need to be available for weekly treatments, it may become necessary to take shorter trips in between treatments instead of month- or year-long trips. This will give you the opportunity to investigate more short-term destinations rather than those further away. Or, you could share medical records with several medical facilities on your travel route so that treatments can be administered in each location.

It helps to focus on opportunities and activities you can still enjoy, rather than those less available due to this change.

New Discoveries
In the wake of this change, activities that were once unappealing may take on a new attraction. For example, if marathons or 5K races are something you both enjoyed together and are no longer an option, you might discover the pleasure of walking together. Or, perhaps you could take up hiking or fishing.

What you should avoid is spending too much time pining for the activities you can no longer enjoy. This will cause you to miss the opportunity to find new ways to enjoy your time together.

An unfortunate change can sometimes be the beginning of new discoveries and a wonderful new life together.

Closer Than Before
When facing an illness or life change together, couples may find that these difficulties can bring them closer than they were before. They may have more time together and take more opportunities to talk about things that are truly important to them. Talking about the changes you must make will be inevitable as well. This can lead to a closeness that may not have been available in the past. It’s important to be open to the possibility that these upcoming years can be positive.

Any change can be stressful, even those we anticipate. When a life change happens to be negative, it takes more work to appreciate the transition, but the effort is worth it. You and your partner may find an unexpected change to be the most endearing time in your life together.

Diane Berry After 18 years as a therapist in private practice, Diane and her husband moved to the mountains of Colorado so they could hike and camp. When not traveling, she teaches social work and human services courses online. Her articles are meant to provide information of a general nature and are not intended to take the place of consulting a health care professional.


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