Almost everyone will face a difficult diagnosis at some point in life, whether it’s a difficult health diagnosis of their own, one for someone they love, or – what’s most likely – both. It’s a common part of life, yet one we often feel ill equipped to handle when it occurs.
No matter what you read here, dealing with a difficult diagnosis is going to be hard. But these tips may help you face and work through the feelings you have in in response to the bad news.
- Let yourself feel your feelings.
There’s this unhelpful notion in our culture that we should “be strong” in the face of difficulties by not showing emotion – that somehow that’s better for our loved ones than feeling our emotions honestly. Don’t believe the lie.
As long as you don’t respond in a way that’s destructive to your loved ones, like lashing out at them in anger, your emotional response is your business and you’ll be better off letting yourself feel and react to the news in the way that feels most natural to you.
There’s no one right way to respond to difficult news. Don’t feel like there’s some “normal” or “right” reaction you’re supposed to have. Chances are, whatever you’re feeling is a valid response. Let yourself feel it.
- Ask your doctor questions.
Get comfortable asking about any and everything you need to know to understand your illness. Do your best to learn from them what you should do, what you should expect, and what potential symptoms could be warning signs that need to be addressed quickly. Knowing as much as possible about your illness will help you gain some understanding of what’s coming and help you shape a plan for how to deal with it moving forward.
And be very careful about starting to rely on Dr. Google. The internet can be really helpful in some ways when you’re sick, such as for finding other people facing a similar illness to connect with, but you don’t want to let information on a website worry you needlessly. Doing research on your own into your illness is fine, just be very careful of the resources you pay attention to.
- Find your support system.
Don’t try to take on your diagnosis and illness alone. Figure out the people in your life you can talk to about what you’re feeling and ask for occasional favors. You’ll probably need rides to the doctor or help with day-to-day chores that are harder to complete due to your illness. If you have a spouse and kids that live with you, they can be enlisted to help, but having some extra backup will be valuable to both you and them.
If you live far away from your family or don’t know that many people, look into local support groups. Most cities will have support groups for a number of different illnesses. You can find people going through something similar to you and may be able to help each other out in your times of greatest need.
- Create a plan.
Part of what makes dealing with an illness so psychologically difficult is feeling out of control. Your body’s making decisions for you and you’re limited in what you can do about it.
One way you can remove some of the anxiety of dealing with a difficult illness is by having a plan. Spend time with your doctor to develop and fully understand your treatment plan. Then sit down with your loved ones and discuss your plan for handling possible issues likely to be caused by the illness as they arise.
For example, a senior who receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis will likely need to either move in with a loved one, or move to an assisted living facility with memory care at some point. Taking time with your loved ones to create a plan for how to decide when that time has come and what to do once it does gives you some power back and makes the months and years to come easier on your family, since they’ll be able to confidently make decisions based on your own wishes.
- Consider finding a patient advocate.
Our health care system is hard to navigate in the best of times. When you’re dealing with the stress and myriad symptoms that come with a serious illness, having to deal with setting up doctor’s appointments and calls to the insurance company can very quickly become overwhelming.
Patient advocates exist to help people navigate the healthcare process. That way, you can focus on your treatment and let them make those calls to the insurance company.
Some employers include access to patient advocates as one of the benefits they offer, so if you’re currently employed, start by checking there. If you’re not employed or your employer doesn’t provide that benefit, check the Advoconnection directory to find advocates in your area, or reach out to the Patient Advocate Foundation.
- Consider therapy.
A difficult diagnosis is frequently as hard on a person mentally as the symptoms of the disease are physically. You don’t have to figure out how to deal with those feelings on your own.
A good therapist can help you process the feelings you have both in the wake of your diagnosis and as you deal with the illness itself. They can help you find balance between continuing to live your life while dealing with all the difficulties your illness brings. And they can help you find positive outlets for some of the negative emotions you’ll inevitably feel.
If you’ve been hesitant to try therapy in the past, this is a good time to reconsider. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or that you’re a failure, it simply means you’re a person willing to get a little bit of help in becoming a better version of yourself as you face something difficult.
Your illness may not be something you can control, but that doesn’t make you entirely powerless. You can take some control back in how you choose to face the illness. Nothing you can read in a blog post will make facing a difficult diagnosis easy, but hopefully you can use these tips to carve out a path for yourself in dealing with your illness that’s better for you and your family.