"You have a stroke."
The first time I heard that pronouncement I didn't know what to make of it. My mind simply couldn't grasp its significance. The kind doctor looked apologetic when he told me that for a moment I felt sorry that he had to be the bearer of bad news. That one sentence changed my life.
How do you deal with news like that? Here's how:
1. Take time to allow it to sink in.
Denial is a common reaction to bad news. It serves to protect us. What needs to be done is to give yourself time and space to allow the information that you've received along with the consequences to sink in. What I did to facilitate this process was to share and repeat the diagnosis with my family and friends. Saying it out loud made it real to me. While it was very painful to keep repeating it, this jump-started the process of accepting the illness.
2. Show compassion to yourself.
In the early stages after you've been diagnosed with an illness, you will be bombarded with a number of different feelings such as shock, disbelief, fear, sadness, anger or even relief. These are all normal reactions. Give yourself permission to express the emotions and avoid suppressing them. If you need to cry, cry. It is okay to be emotional and vulnerable because that is what makes us human. Choose who you want to share this deeper feelings with.
Showing compassion to self also means accepting our own limitations and not beat us up unnecessarily. I had just been transferred to a different department in my workplace when I fell ill.
Instead of showing compassion to self, I felt very guilty for causing inconveniences to the new department and started blaming myself. It took me a long time to accept the graciousness of my
bosses and colleagues, who showed so much support and understanding.
3. Instead of asking "why me?" ask "why not me?"
Again, “why me?” is a very common reaction. While it is understandable that you want to ask this question, it is not a constructive one because you will never be satisfied with the answers. Most likely the answers that you come up with will be wrong or its truth cannot be confirmed. This sort of questioning also leads to erroneous beliefs like, “something is wrong or bad with me, hence I am being punished with this illness” or “life is so unfair”, which are counterproductive. In fact these beliefs will cultivate more negative emotions that can cloud your judgments.
One of the givens in life is that suffering spares no one. Being human it means to be afflicted with pain and suffering. The irony is that suffering increases when we demand of life that “this
should not be happening to me.”
“Why not me?” My answers:
Because I am human and I am not spared from pain and suffering.
Because life is not perfect and bad things happen to good people.
Because I have the strengths to overcome challenges in life.
Because I can transform this suffering and pain into something that will inspire and help others.
4. Learn about your illness.
When you are ready, make effort to familiarize yourself with your illness and its treatment options. Learn about the symptoms so that you can watch out for them and know what to do. Read up and when you see the doctor, present your questions. When it is difficult to understand, be patient and ask for help. Talk to other patients and form support group. Knowledge is power and it can give you some semblance of control when you are actively doing something for yourself. Don't be intimidated by the medical jargons.
5. Turning to God or Higher Power in prayer.
What is prayer? It is about being hopeful that there is something greater than yourself that is in control. To pray is to let go of your belief that you are in control of your life, and turn it over to something larger.
As Roman Catholic, my family believes in prayer more than anything else. Prayer brings me comfort and strength because I believe I am not alone in my suffering. Granted it doesn't remove the pain
or make the process any easier. However, the hope and faith that I will be fine no matter what encourage me to keep fighting till the end.
6. Develop an attitude of gratitude.
“What? How do you expect me to be grateful when I am suffering?”
The truth is it could be worse. You could have a disease where there is no cure. You could be living in a rural area where treatment is not easily accessible. You could be financially strapped that you can't afford the treatment. You could have had a stroke that leaves your paralyzed. You could be without the love and support of your family and friends. And the list goes on.
What has helped me most in overcoming my challenges other than my faith in God is my strong sense of gratitude. Gratitude is one of the positive emotions that has been studied extensively in Positive Psychology. Research has shown that gratitude opens our heart and mind and carries the urge to give something back. This was certainly true for me. I was so overwhelmed by the support and love that I received and that gave me the courage and strength to do all that I can to recover from the illness. I have so much more to say on this that it necessitates a separate post.
Please stay tuned for it.
Food for thought: Does any of this resonate with you? I'd love to hear your views. Also if you know of someone who might benefit from this, please feel free to share it.
Come, let's flourish together!
- 6 ways family and friends can provide support to a patient.
- Power of Gratitude
- What I have learned from my illness