Coping with a life changing illness or a life changing injury

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[...] 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).

What now?

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:

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

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...

Hidden blessings?

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.

Again, from the book "Peace, Love and Healing":

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[...] 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).