Acceptance and Change

Acceptance is a recurring theme. When individuals are able to accept their limitations and losses, many are able to identify new avenues to continue to live a fulfilling life. When we struggle with our mind and body, sometimes it’s only going to do more damage. Those who are afraid of suffocating end up hyperventilating. Those who struggle to fall asleep end up wide awake. Those who blame themselves for feeling bad end up more depressed. Those who are angry with their pain end up with more muscle tension… and the list goes on.

If acceptance is such a wonderful thing, why does it still feel awfully heartless sometimes to “help” people come to terms with the fact that they will never be able to see, breathe without a device, walk, dance, or work again? Why do I feel like a guilty accomplice rather than an honest advocate when we encourage individuals to follow their medical treatment regimen despite knowing as well as they do that nothing is going to reverse the disease process and everything is going to bring upon a ton of side effects? Perhaps the assumption is that people want to live forever. What if they don’t? What if their quality of life and self-determination truly matter more than how much longer they get to live?

Even more disturbing is when individuals suffer because of undue stress inflicted upon them by the medical, social, or legal system. We can talk about stress management, assertiveness, positive reframing, and all those excellent “coping skills,” but even the most assertive person can’t usually change the unfortunate reality of being asked to fill out the same form 5 times before the medical secretary finally returns her call. If someone is already lacking physical and mental dexterity because of her illness, why does the burden have to fall upon her to ensure her physician’s receptionist doesn’t screw up her next appointment? Instead of helping people learn to accept the inadequacies of the system and not “over-react” to unprofessional behaviors, can’t we help re-teach some of our colleagues some basic social etiquette as well?

Acceptance may indeed prolong life; and potentially enhance one’s quality of life. It certainly feels good to bear witness to the courage or hope or inner strength or whatever they think we have evoked or instilled in them, once they have come to accept the inevitable deterioration and loss. But acceptance isn’t resignation. The issues they are dealing with aren’t “all in their head.”

The second part of the serenity prayer is as important as the first. Perhaps each and every one of us could help raise awareness of changes that need to be made, and try to make them happen?


About C

If you consider volunteering at a luncheon for older adults as my first exposure to the field, I have been in geropsychology for at least twenty years. As family, friend, volunteer, trainee, and professional, I have found myself in adult day care centers, senior centers, senior living facilities, nursing homes, medical and psychiatric wards, hospice, and personal homes of older adults. Wherever I go, be it an orphanage, a museum, a prison, an airport, or a random corner in the neighborhood, issues related to aging and mental health often come to mind. I used to think that I could make a difference only if I became a top-notch researcher, educator, or clinician. As I continue to follow this meandering path, it dawns on me that as a nobody in the field, I can still add my light to the sum of light by sharing what I know. Over the years, I have "converted" a few very dedicated individuals to focus on aging-related work within their respective disciplines and encouraged a handful more to stay in this field despite its winding course. I believe by bringing aging and mental health issues to the foreground, we will amass a stronger force to promote advocacy, research, and quality care.
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