Coping with a life changing illness or a life changing injury
[...] our ability to
mobilize our healing capacity means that survival statistics do not apply to individuals. Individuals who change in response
to their illness can exceed expectations or achieve results doctors consider miraculous. When talking to these exceptional
patients the words love, faith, living in the moment, forgiveness and hope come up again and again.
(Siegel, 1989, p. 4).
The first task is to begin to reconcile that you have a health issue or accident that has changed your life.
Depending on the severity of the shock, you may seek to deny your condition.
To borrow the words of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross "Denial functions as a buffer after unexpected shocking news,
allows the patient to collect himself [...]" (Kubler-Ross, 1969, p. 39).
Although it seems impossible at first, a gradual move toward acceptance is possible.
Feelings that you will likely experience
Depending on your nature and the type of illness, you can experience one of many of emotions.
The more common ones are:
Anger. "How could this happen to me?" or "Why did this happen to me?"
You might feel angry at everyone who is not suffering from a similar loss.
Guilt. "I should have exercised more" or "I shouldn't have been driving on New Years eve"
Despair. "What's the point of doing anything?" or "My life will never be the same"
Overwhelmed. You might feel unable to focus your thinking or have feelings of panic
No one knows better than someone who has been through it
Support groups for a specific condition or life circumstance can give the kind of understanding that you can find no where else.
People who are going through the same thing as you will understand your feelings on a visceral level. They allow you to listen to
those who have started this journey before you and who have learned hard lessons along the way. There is no substitute for this type
of camaraderie and understanding. If you can find one, a support group can become a key part of your recovery.
What to do now
The greatest asset that you have is the people around you. Whoever genuinely cares for can help you through a difficult adjustment. Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman, described how his wife's support helped him:
"But you're still you and I love you." And that saved my life right there. That put an end to any thought of giving up.
(Smith,L., 1996, p. 85).
If you have a religious or spiritual practice, this is the time to reach out to other members. There may be groups at your place of worship that can be helpful to you.
Make plans to engage in activities that bring you joy. Think optimistically.
Seek out optimistic writing and ask the people around you to try to be optimistic. See a funny movie.
Find someone who can really listen. Tell them the details of what has happened and how it makes you feel. Ask if you can call on them during those times when you are feeling down.
Going back to your life
When deciding when to return to your normal activities, it is better to
return sooner rather than later. Getting back to your old activities will
return a sense of normality to your life. If you need to make major
adjustments, such as changing your career, you can use this time to
begin planning your return to school or retraining.
Major life changes present you with great challenges. No one should try to minimize
the difficulty of adjusting to a new future or letting go of your old life. But it is important
to remember that people can and do move forward with their lives, with courage and with hope.
When you are ready, seek out these hopeful and inspiring stories. Use them as a beacon to guide you
towards your best life and greatest future...
It may sound absurd but many people report that they have come to view their illness as a gift.
It had forced them to re-evalulate how they were living, to begin to heal old emotional wounds and to appreciate the gift of moment-to-moment living.
[...] a beautiful fifty-year-old woman who had a double mastectomy [...] got up at a workshop to explain what she meant:
Three years ago, I was graced with cancer. I looked my whole life for a teacher, and it
wasn't until I got cancer that I really started to pay attention to the preciousness of each breath,
to the momentum of each thought, till I saw that this moment is all.
All my other teachers gave me ideas. This caused me to directly experience my life.
When I got cancer, it was up to me get born before I died. (p. 193)
Siegel, Bernie, M.D. Peace, Love and Healing. New York: HarperCollins. 1989.
Kubler-Ross, E. On Death and Dying. New York: Collier Books. 1969.
Smith, L. (1996). 'We draw strength from each other.' Good Housekeeping, 222.n6 (June 1996): 86(5).