A few weeks ago, some girlfriends and I ventured on a beach getaway. That Saturday, while cooling off from a few hours in the sun, we somehow ended up watching several episodes of a show called My 600 Pound Life. It seemed only natural to munch on the Krispy Kreme doughnuts we had procured the night before. Before we knew it, we had been sucked in to a downward spiral of television watching. Much like watching a car crash, we couldn’t seem to turn away. Or change the channel.
A common theme prevailed: either the subject of the show was ready to make a change, or she wasn’t. Sure, most people say they want to change (something – it doesn’t have to be a weight thing), but we all know that it’s easy to say or wish or think about change. It’s much harder to actually do it – to make the change happen.
Frequently, those on the show who weren’t truly ready to change–to adopt a new lifestyle–were surrounded by people who enabled them to stay mired in their habits. To stay stuck in their comfort zone. Many times, the enablers were family members, and they didn’t know any other way. Or they couldn’t stand to see their loved one struggling. So, of course, it makes sense to bring McDonalds to someone who is grossly overweight and bedridden.
This is an extreme example, sure. But in my experience, it’s not all that far fetched to say the same type of enabling occurs in other ways. And again, it all stems from the family member or friend not just wanting to help but to avoid the inevitable–the frustration, the heartache, the difficulty–of change.
The first post I wrote when I started this blog was called “Let Me Finish!”. At the time, I spoke in very halting sentences and often took a very long time to finish my thoughts. People would frequently want to help me out by finishing my sentences. But what they didn’t realize was that they weren’t helping me at all. They meant well, of course. But they were actually hindering my recovery, because the only way I was going to become faster and more fluent was just doing it myself–no matter how long it took.
Additionally, when I first began using my phone and computer again, I frequently misspelled words or else completely left them out. My aphasia made it very difficult for me to string words together in a way that made sense, even though in my head, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I have heard this example many times throughout my recovery, but having aphasia is akin to have all your words–your “files”–overturned and jumbled around in your brain.
Now, mind you, I have always been an avid reader and writer at heart. I typically was also quite compulsive about correct spelling and grammar. Obviously, suddenly not being able to make sense with written or typed words drove me crazy. I immediately began to ask Paul to review and correct all my texts and posts. He indulged me at first but soon wised up after our first meeting at TAP. He then agreed to read my work but refused to correct anything that was wrong.
Not surprisingly, this development was hard to take. I would stare for what felt like hours at whatever I had written, trying to figure out if it was sensical and correct. And yet, it was exactly what I needed. By using Paul as my editor and lifeline, I was never going to learn how to recognize what needed to be corrected. By refusing to enable me, Paul actually helped me quickly recover my propensity for writing and honed my eye in order to carefully QC my own work, something I still have to do today.
Another way in which Paul stopped enabling me was refusing to order food for me in public. It seems very basic, but that was so key in my recovery. I live in downtown Durham, which means I am within biking distance to some of the tastiest food the state (dare I say, the entire South) has to offer. Not being comfortable speaking in public, even if it was only to order my egg and cheese bagel from Monuts, was disheartening.
To be honest, when you have a language impairment, talking in public is really intimidating. Now, of course, I have made so much progress that I don’t hesitate. But at the time, it was scary as hell. I really just preferred to hide in the corner and have Paul speak for me. But, obviously this didn’t correlate well to my goal of getting better. In order to get better and more comfortable speaking in public, I sort of had to…speak in public. Plus, Paul started to refuse to speak for me. So that was that.
I suspect sometimes that people with similar impairments seek the easy way out, at least initially like I did, because (surprise) change is hard–more than that, change is painful.
You can’t go from 0 to 60 the first time out. Sometimes, all you can do is to take a walk down to the mailbox and go back inside. Then the next day, maybe you take a few more steps. But the point is, you still have to take those first few steps. No one else can do it for you. You can’t write a book without first writing a basic sentence.
But, one thing I have learned for sure over the past year is that it is never too late to make a change. No matter what that change is. Improvement is always possible, though it may not come as quickly as we’d like.
Change starts with learning how to advocate for yourself and how to recognize the best avenue to improvement, even if it’s difficult. Change starts with taking that walk or re-learning how to order that bagel sandwich. Or by sending a simple text. Change starts by taking ownership of your goals and recognizing your weaknesses.
Now I’m off to order my own beer, thanks.