A Serious Medical Diagnosis

Living day to day, perhaps we assume that tomorrow will be pretty much like today and most of the time it is. We live our lives, which usually involves taking care of our families, going to work, school, making plans with friends, traveling, achieving our goals, engaging our talents and spending time involved in our hobbies.

Most of us enjoy spending time doing things that fall, to a certain extent, within our comfort zone. When we challenge ourselves physically, intellectually, or emotionally, we are choosing to do just that. Most of us function well when things are moving along in a fairly predictable manner.

The Unpredictable Shakes Our World

It is not until something unpredictable happens that directly impacts us or a loved one that our world gets suddenly shaken. When this happens we metaphorically and likely, actually, reach out to hold onto someone we hope will stabilize the situation and make things ok again.

The reality is that those around us, no matter how much they love us, no matter how dependable and constant they have been in our lives, cannot make things ok again. Getting through such an ordeal takes more than the people and the resources we have depended upon up until that point. It takes a village. Most of us don’t have a village of support. But we can create one.

Getting through a life threatening illness demands a LOT of support, ongoing encouragement as well as resources within oneself that may have been previously untapped.

Most of us are ill-equipped to handle such an unexpected and emotionally jarring experience:

  • An unexpected trauma
  • The shock of receiving a scary diagnosis
  • Finding oneself in the midst of a medical crisis

These can be devastating and overwhelming to say the least. Emotions can hit hard and immediate and others may creep in as time goes by.

Feeling alone, vulnerable,  anxious, angry, sad and depressed are some of the emotions that one may endure while trying to maintain composure and move forward in the face of such a disturbing ordeal.

In this situation, for many, the life one knew may seem to come to a halt and in many respects this is a reality.  There may be an immediate loss of independence; for example, one may need to stop working and/or driving. Many of the responsibilities that were routinely carried out at home may suddenly fall onto loved ones causing more unexpected change.

Family members may feel stymied by the crisis, overwhelmed and unsure as to how they should proceed. Considering these factors it is an understatement to say that there can be a dramatic shift in the world as one has known it to be, as well as in the family dynamic itself.

Partnering With Your Community

So where does the needed strength to cope with such events come from? This is where it gets tricky.

Partner with Your Family

Much depends on one’s coping capacity as well as the immediate support system, both of which can be fortified with the right information, guidance and creativity. For most of us, a support system consists of family and friends.

Partner with the Medical Team

However, perhaps unrecognized as an integral part of an individual’s support system, is the medical team. The interdisciplinary members of a comprehensive medical team are there to help their patient as well as the family in countless ways.

The team is usually comprised of doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and psychotherapists and it evolves along with the needs of the patient. They have the experience and know what individuals and families are going through. An example of this might be an urgent situation where decisions need to be made quickly and can include decisions regarding surgery or treatment. The medical team can help by providing options in a clear and helpful manner. Patients who utilize the expertise as well as the emotional support that a caring team can provide often feel better equipped to cope than those who do not.

Partner with your Support Group

Finally, individuals benefit from the inclusion of support groups, healing professions such as Acupuncture, Reiki, Massage Therapy, Counseling, and when possible, exercise. The value of these important components of health and wellness cannot be overstated.

Adjusting Expectations

An important yet often overlooked aspect of managing high stress situations involves the expectations one holds for oneself and others.

It is critical to understand that family and friends of a loved one in medical crisis are also coping with a major stressor and that their own expectations for themselves may seem insurmountable.

Family members may feel frustrated that they cannot do more to lessen the suffering of their loved one. Taking a good look at these expectations can help to bring them more in line with reality and allow for a deeper level of understanding and acceptance. Though it might be difficult to do in times of high stress, increasing empathy and compassion for others as well as for oneself can serve to enhance one’s own coping abilities and may bolster the healing capacity of the entire support system.

Discovering Inner Resilience

Any traumatic situation including a medical crisis can challenge one’s sense of self, role and identity. These identity issues can be subtle, obvious, or denied altogether. Individuals may benefit overall when these sensitive issues are acknowledged and integrated into the healing process.

Although it is not necessary for every individual experiencing a difficult medical diagnosis or crisis, many individuals benefit from the inclusion of psychotherapy as a vital component of support and healing. A client can explore, along with an astute therapist, the emotional impact of the illness as well as concomitant stressors.

Subtle stressors in conjunction with the more traumatic stress of the illness can be discussed in an emotionally safe setting conducive to a sense of trust and acceptance. In this environment an individual is more likely to gain insight, self confidence and find inner resilience that will bolster overall coping and further facilitate the healing process.

Working with a therapist while coping with a difficult illness can potentially alleviate problems that may otherwise have lasting and troubling emotional consequences. It is important to note that much personal growth can take place during an experience as difficult as a traumatic illness. Emotional, physical and spiritual resilience can be realized.

Life’s unexpected and negative potentialities are a part of life that we often feel ill-equipped to navigate. When we are faced with a traumatic medical crisis or serious illness we may feel alone and overwhelmed. So our natural tendency is to depend upon family and friends to see us through.

However this may place an inordinate amount of strain and stress on our loved ones, hindering the coping capacity of all involved. But by utilizing the expertise and emotional support from professionals, as well as one’s immediate support system, one can lessen the burden as well as facilitate the healing process. In addition, creatively bolstering one’s support system by making connections with new people, reconnecting with those from the past and engaging in healthy, healing activities can enliven a sense of well being and help one realize inner strength and resilience previously unrecognized.

As always, if you need to speak to a counselor, give us a call at 1-855-4-THRIVE.

Article by  Deborah Brigandi MSW, LICSW