Do you feel like you need to find yourself again? Baby boomers can go through many major life changes that alter their sense of self. Retirement, caregiving, empty nest syndrome, divorce, or the loss of a loved one can change your life forever.
After my mother died, I received a letter from the hospice grief coordinator who helped my family care for my mother in her final days. They recognized that family members who have spent most of their time caring for loved ones for months or perhaps years often ask themselves after their death, “Where am I going?” or “What do I do?”
This is exactly how I felt after my mom died. I was the primary caregiver for my mom who had Lewy body dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that left her physically and mentally helpless. Being a caregiver was the hardest job I’ve ever had, by far. When she passed away, I assumed that although I would cry for my mom, I would also feel a sense of relief that my work was over and my life could go back to normal.
Instead, I felt lethargic, depressed and yes, lost after she died. My life, my thoughts and my feelings had revolved around caring for my mother. I found that when your roles change drastically, you lose your sense of who you are. Your self-image is shattered.
This uncomfortable feeling can happen every time you go through a major change in your life. Perhaps you have recently retired or have become an empty nest. After dreaming of all the things you would do when you had more time after raising your kids and working 9 to 5, you feel lost.
Remember, while you may no longer be a full-time caregiver, partner, employee, or parent, you still are 100 percent. You just need to find that person again.
Allow yourself to cry
If you have suffered a loss, be kind and patient with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings instead of hiding them under the rug. Everyone is different. Emotions can range from anger, loss, guilt, sadness, lethargy, regret, confusion, and depression.
Whether you’ve lost a loved one, a spouse in divorce, or a job, you may have lost your lifestyle and identity as well. It’s okay to mourn that loss.
However, be careful not to isolate yourself during this process. You will need a support network. Healing can mean lots of heartfelt prayer, talking about your feelings with a supportive loved one, and / or focusing your energy on a healthy activity that you enjoy.
LET IT GO
Avoid getting bogged down in all the “should have …” or “I wish …” feelings that often come with grief but can interfere with your recovery. Don’t let sadness, stress, resentment, or bitterness become a way of life. Get rid of all that negative self-talk like “I’ve lost everything” or “My life is over.” The fact is, your life is not over; it’s just a new beginning for you.
The goal is not to wallow in negative feelings forever, but to move on, be there for the people in need, have a meaningful and productive life, and enjoy life once again. Be grateful for what IS working in your life right now. Live in the present and focus on the positive. Learn from their experiences and prepare for the next exciting chapter in your life.
It’s easy to get lost in caring for your family and children or aging parents or developing a career. You may have given up many things you enjoyed. Take some time to get to know yourself again.
“To move your life forward, you have to start by focusing on yourself,” wrote Mark Branschick, MD in an article, Seven Ways to Thrive After Divorce, for Psychology Today. “Take this precious opportunity to rediscover who you are. Think of this moment in your life as an adventure to explore your true self.”
You can lose sight of your unique gifts if you focus on what you don’t like about yourself or your life. Think about your qualities and abilities and how best to use them. What makes you really happy? What do you really care about? What do you think is your true purpose in life? What hobbies and activities did you enjoy before becoming a caregiver, married couple, or parent? What is it that will excite you when you get out of bed every day? Make a list of what you can do to reach your goals.
Rediscover what brought you fulfillment, satisfaction, fun, and joy as a way to rebuild yourself and your life.
My life changed overnight and that can be unnerving. In my case, we had recently moved into a new house that we had built to be closer to my mom (who unfortunately died the week before it was finished). My husband and I went from having empty nests to a house full of adult children and grandchildren. Also, I had to find new clients as a freelance writer and start working again. It was also a tumultuous year in other respects. My mother-in-law lost her fight with ovarian cancer and my son began to go through an ugly battle over divorce and custody.
Let’s face it, between all these events and changes in my life, I was shocked. I felt fragile and battled depression for the first time in my life.
It has been a journey, but I am beginning to recover and heal. In the process, I am learning to accept all the new changes in my life. My new job writing magazine articles requires meeting strict deadlines, but the topics are fun and it’s an exciting job. We are a multi-generational family living together, but I have come to enjoy having the cocoon of family love around me during this difficult time. My oldest son is going through many of the same emotions as I am as he finds his way after divorce and we have connected on a whole new level. When our three grandchildren are with us, they bring us joy and keep us young.
So don’t be afraid of change. Get out of your comfort zone and discover a new side of yourself. Maybe that means a new career, trying a new sport, traveling to a new place, changing your hair, or taking classes. Shake things up a bit.
HUG YOUR NEW ROLE
You will go through several stages before this step can happen. However, it is time to make a decision. You can move on and discover the possibilities that a life change presents or get caught up in negative emotions.
Find a way to put one foot in front of the other. If you can move forward, you will eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know from experience.
Over time, you will reconnect with old friends or make new friends, go to work, go back to school or volunteer, rediscover what once brought you joy, enjoy new adventures, and find your way. You will see the changes in your life in a positive way, you will feel more secure and in control, and you will become more productive and optimistic about your future.
The time will come when you will find yourself again, you will accept your new role in life and you will feel that your new shoes fit you well. You will breathe a sigh of relief. Life will never be perfect, but eventually you won’t have to try so hard to “make your life work” again. It just will.