Change gets a bad rap! People often think change means more work or having to give up comfortable ways of doing things. Change invites uncertainty and hard work. But what if, due to life circumstances, you had to change every routine you now enjoy and swap it for a new one? This is what TBI does to individuals and families. It’s change with a big fat capital C.
When I returned to college a year after Hugh’s TBI, I was assigned a leadership book called Deep Change by Robert Quinn. Quinn coined the phrase: “Deep change or slow death,” and revealed that most of us choose slow death!
Slow death happens when we deny that our situation has grown structured and stagnant. “Symptoms include: being a passive observer, feeling powerless, having no vitality, no purpose, feeling like you are going through the motions.” Why would we choose a way of life that feels this way? Because we are afraid to change. We stick with our old ways, no matter how miserable we are. It’s easy for caregivers to fall into a monotonous daze and turn bitter. Sometimes our patterns wind around and around in a sickening circle of grinding boredom and dysfunction.
Chapter one of Deep Change is entitled “Walking Naked into the Land of Uncertainty.” This sense of vulnerability described exactly how I felt during the first six months following Hugh’s injury. Quinn makes a distinction between incremental change and deep change. Incremental change involves advanced planning with well thought out steps. The person making the change is in control and can reverse course at anytime. Deep change is radical — we surrender control. “It requires new ways of thinking and behaving. It is major in scope, involves risk-taking, and is generally irreversible.”
Here’s my own example of deep change:
After twenty-four years of marriage to Hugh, our lives are structured and routine until Hugh is hit by a car and suffers a TBI. His injury forces us into new roles. Our lives are turned upside down. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I had many options:
- I could keep doing what I have always done the way I’ve always done it, and find myself struggling to cope and keep up with simple obligations;
- I could withdraw, feel victimized, refuse help, and sink into depression;
- I could take some time out, seek advice and counseling, assess the situation, accept help, and create a new plan.
While I resorted to options one and two for a while, option three resulted in deep change for me — it required new ways of thinking and behaving, it involved trying new coping skills and life strategies, new jobs, and new ways of interacting with people. This change was permanent.
Quinn says that “walking naked into the land of uncertainty” usually involves a “dark night of the soul.” After Hugh was injured, I grieved for my old life and for our old family routines for months on end. I kept trying to be a part-time resume writer, career consultant, and full-time Mom, only now I had caregiving in the mix. I must have been insane, since Albert Einstein says, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Here’s what I took away from Deep Change:
Deep change may seem frightening, but when we respond boldly, honestly, and with a specific vision in mind, the change is usually positive. Deep change provides new perspective and new energy. Deep change beats slow death!
Yes, TBI rocked my world in a bad way, but I rocked back. I had to look inside myself and confront my own reality. While reaffirming my long-held values, I reassessed my own talents and desires and did my best to shape a new life that involved deep change. I studied and practiced how to consciously respond to situations rather than irrationally react to them. It was hard. I stumbled, and I’m still working on it, but I can honestly say, I am incredibly happy with my life as it is now, and I keep on tweaking it to be sure I’m not blindly complacent.
TBI changes a caregiver’s life at an astounding pace. Will you change along with it? Will you do the soul-searching required for deep change?
Quinn, Robert E. Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within