The time following my diagnosis, I remember feeling as though I had been swallowed up in a huge, gray cloud. I felt lost, confused, vulnerable, and pretty darn lonely. Yet over time, I found ways that made this period of my life a little less gray and a little more hopeful. I am not a trained therapist or psychologist, but what I can offer is my experience. My sincerest wish is that my advice and perspective will bring a little more brightness to your cloudy days too.
- Grieve your old self. A diagnosis is often a life changing event. It is perfectly okay to be sad with the new knowledge that who you once were, is now different. Different does not necessarily mean bad or worse, it just means there has been a change. Prior to my diagnosis, I felt invincible, as though my health would be stellar for decades to come. Then one day that all changed and I needed time to process the sudden shift and learn to see myself in a new light.
- Express your feelings. Or as I like say, “Feel your feels!” If you are mad, allow yourself to feel some anger. If you want to yell, scream! If you are feeling down, have a good cry. It is emotionally freeing to express your feelings as they come. Suppressing your emotions can make it feel as though you are lying to yourself or downplaying your circumstance. However, try your best not to remain stuck in any single emotional state. Wallowing in self-pity or becoming bitter due to unchecked anger will benefit no one and may even harm your mental or emotional well-being.
- Don’t let it define you. You may have (fill in the blank) disease, but you are not said disease. It is only one facet of the millions of wonderful facets that make up who you are. Remember this on your healing journey and view your diagnosis as a chapter in your story, not the entire book.
- Reach out. Find someone with a similar diagnosis, join a support group or find an online forum specific to your diagnosis. Your family and friends can sympathize with you and certainly provide support, but they will never truly understand what you are going through. Empathy occurs between individuals who are going through a shared experience, which can form a bond that is extremely healing and comforting. When I was first diagnosed, I reached out to a friend at my church who had the same condition. We had a long, deep, and caring conversation. I cannot express how uplifting it was to have a listening ear and advice from someone who had already been through what I was going through.
- Find Healthy Outlets. A new diagnosis is likely bring a new wave of stress unlike anything you’ve experienced. Find healthy ways to decompress from the stress you are facing. A healthy outlet can include anything that brings you joy and relaxation such as a cooking class, scheduling regular massages, a walk in the park, or planning weekly phone conversations with your best friend.
- Focus on what you CAN control, not what you CANNOT. It can be SO easy to get caught up with the “what if” game. But you can “what if” yourself into a state of misery with worrying about the future. Instead, focus on everything you can control and have peace with accepting the rest. There will always be factors impossible to control, no matter the situation, and fretting over them will not change anything.
- Educate yourself. Don’t let your diagnosis paralyze you; be proactive and educate yourself. It’s important to be knowledgeable on what your body is going through and learn various ways you can help it heal. Knowing your options for treatment that fit your viewpoint will also provide peace of mind.
- Seek the right practitioner. Find a practitioner you feel comfortable with and listens to your questions and concerns. If they are dismissive or downplay what you are going through, it is time to hire a new practitioner. In addition, having someone care for your mental and emotional health is just as important as your physical health. If you feel the need for mental and emotional support, seek a professional to help guide you through your thoughts and feelings.
- Express gratitude. Lastly but most importantly, be grateful. There is no doubt this may be an extremely difficult thing to practice, but it is worth your effort. I also understand that this is a scary time but remember everything you currently have in your life and be grateful for it. Do not neglect the relationships, activities, or things you are thankful for that bring you joy. Keep them close and treasure them. Focusing on the positive can help you appreciate the good, despite the bad, and perpetuate feelings of hope. The right mindset is a powerful tool and can make a significant difference during this healing period in your life.