The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

February 22, 2008

disABILITY: Fear of change can be crippling

It may seem like an oxymoron, but within nature and life, change is a universal constant.

Change forces adaptation, and in turn, adaptation opens new possibilities. It sounds good, but it's not typically an easy thing to handle. It usually evokes more than nominal discomfort in people when they experience it.

When change rolls toward the shores of life, there are several options. One is to ride the wave, another is to be overcome by it and be pulled out to sea, and the other option is to defy and resist it altogether.

Drowning in inevitable changes or trying to resist something larger than you are doesn't typically feel so great. But, nonetheless, those seem to be the typical knee-jerk responses many people do have.

For me, big changes started happening without my consent at around age 11. Going blind wasn't easy by any means, but I think the fear of the unknown was far more troubling than the blindness. Some say that what we don't know won't hurt us, and it's sometimes true, but what we don't know also scares us.

Fear was one feeling that dominated my life for more than a decade. It had a somewhat stunting effect, making me feel trapped in my own life and being unable to change a thing.

I had been fully submerged in competitive swimming during that point in my life, so I just clung to that for dear life, even though it started feeling like something I didn't want to be doing anymore.

At that same point, in school, I was having a lot of administrators, teachers and my parents directing my life. I didn't often have much choice in matters of approach in dealing with my education. It was something I fought until I realized I couldn't win a one-woman battle against the masses. So I submitted, learned not to question much, and just behaved my good, little self rather than rocking the boat unnecessarily.

Slowly over the years I was given more and more freedoms and independence back. But by that time I was more comfortable letting other people make all the decisions for me and didn't think I should actually trust myself to know what the right thing was for me and my life.

Then, by the time I reached college, I was handling things well enough that nobody questioned my abilities to handle myself. I didn't even question it much. I just knew it felt mighty awkward.

Then, as if my insecurities about starting college and having total control over my life again wasn't troubling me enough, I had real angst once I reached my ultimate swimming goals in 2000. I ended up quitting. I was just as scared as ever of the added changes it would bring into my life, but I also knew I couldn't continue torturing myself either.

I did obviously have a basic goal of finishing college at that point, but apathy really had set in. I hung on to that goal with the few strands that were left inside of me to hang on with. I just didn't have a clue what I was aiming for after that and that made me feel really unsure of myself.

I passed up the opportunity to do my internship after graduation, which would have given me the title of "registered dietitian." I just felt total apathy toward everything. I really didn't have any idea if I even wanted to become a dietitian anyway. It didn't feel right to me. The uncertainty and not having anyone to tell me what to do next depressed me even more.

Being stuck between a rock and a hard place was a pretty accurate description of where I felt I was in that period of my life. I wanted to embrace some kind of change, but at the same time I didn't know how to. In a way, I was still waiting for school administration, teachers and the parental unit to step in and give me all the answers.

I realized that wasn't going to happen, so goal-

setting became my obsession, but there was a drastic difference between knowing that path and walking it. I learned so much about goal-setting I could have given an excellent presentation to anyone who might have been wondering about the subject. But I just wasn't figuring out how to actually incorporate the knowledge into my own life.

Where I failed was in doubting myself. And my fear of change didn't help anything either. It wasn't even about failing to set goals; rather it's that my fears blinded me from being able to reach out and grab hold of any one of those goals that dangled out in front of me.

About two years ago, however, I grabbed onto the goal of becoming a doctor. It hasn't meant I've stopped questioning in life. I haven't stopped searching for what else might be out there for me to grab hold of on my way to my professional goal, though. And I certainly grab hold of every experience and new skill, continually building on what I know and what I'm capable of. Never settling on anything as the final product or final answer if it's not 100 percent in line with the big intent I've set for myself in life.

The two biggest hurdles for anyone on the journey, I believe, are, first, living for others or living for recognition. That only tends to tangle one's intent in other people's intents or one's own ego. Secondly, it's failing to act in the face of the questioning. Questioning inevitably bombards anyone willing enough to pursue life, rather than just settling for the status quo.

Some people go to the end of the road pursuing their goals. Others stop at various points along the way. Neither way is wrong, as long as where we stop is where we perceive the endpoint needs to be in our own pursuit of our life purpose and big intent.

Kate Pavlacka, a graduate of the State University College at Oneonta, has been totally blind for 11 years.