I once owned a house that sported cracks going upward at an angle from a couple of interior doors. These cracks would come and go. Periodically, we would have the cracks caulked and the rooms painted, after which all was beautiful. Other times, the rains eventually came and the cracks closed up and disappeared on their own. I couldn’t enjoy it, though. I looked above the doors so often that my wife would tell me, “Stop looking up!” Reliably, the cracks soon reappeared, and I would get upset.
I once had a 66-year-old patient with early ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) who came into therapy reporting how difficult it was for him to ask for help and to accept it. He worried that his impairment would turn him into a dependent person, a person who likes being taken care of, a selfish “taker.” We discussed the distinction between someone who has physical impairments that create the need for help, vs. a person who acts helpless out of an unquenchable psychic hunger to be cared for because they are terrified of taking responsibility for themselves. We also distinguished between diseases that progressively impair one's physical ability but leave the personality and intellect intact (like ALS), vs. diseases that destroy one's intellect or personality and leave one's physical ability intact (like Alzheimer’s disease). He started crying. I asked why. He explained that he was shedding TEARS OF GRATITUDE THAT HIS DISEASE WOULD ONLY AFFECT HIM PHYSICALLY. I told him how very beautiful this response was. He left that memorable session thrilled at his relief from dread that his physical neediness would turn him into an unpleasant personality type. He had discovered that, admirably, his intellect and character were more precious to him than his ability to move.
For me, the lesson from these experiences is that much of life is out of my control. My tasks are (1) to know what those areas are and learn to live with it, and (2) to be clear what my values and priorities are. As an adult, I must be able to tolerate minor, unavoidable, or appropriate distress, and know what I am willing to lose in order to keep other things. These building blocks of happiness are not necessarily easily achieved goals, but defining them is a good step toward success.
“My passion is ensuring that every adult is mentally ready to succeed in all transitions that comprise the adult years. The meaning in my life comes from helping my patients see themselves, their situation, their future, and the entire world with new eyes and a newly courageous attitude.
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