Most of us are sanguine about the fact that some things are out of our control. We know, for example, that we can’t avoid death or taxes or do much about how tall we’ll grow.
For much of everything else, we figure out a way to deal with what happens in life — until we can’t, for one reason or another. A prime example is the emotional upheaval caused by receiving an unexpected and scary medical or mental health diagnosis. Having gone through this myself recently, here are some ways to help you cope.
Get all the facts
After the initial shock, take a few deep breaths and resolve to learn as much as you can about the condition, issue or disorder you’ve just been diagnosed with. Ask about available evidence-based treatments, success rates for cure/remission, resources you can check to gain a better understanding of the scope of the problem, how long treatment or procedure may take, recovery time, alternative treatment methods, whether a change in behavior or lifestyle will help speed healing and whatever else comes to mind. Since you need time to absorb the fact that you’ve just been diagnosed with something like skin cancer or atrial fibrillation (both of which, by the way, I found out I had), give yourself time to come up with other specific questions you want your healthcare provider or doctor to answer. Keep careful notes of everything the doctor tells you and get copies of all test results, scans and X-rays, physician’s notes, medications prescribed, and so on.
Go online and check trusted websites to learn the latest research, treatments, techniques
While you likely have faith in your physician to give you the straight facts, there may be more information that the doctor either doesn’t have time to give you or may not be aware of. To help ease your anxiety and provide a measure of self-assurance that you’re as knowledgeable as you can be at present about your condition, check out such trusted websites as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, WebMD, the National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other sites that are pertinent to your disease or condition. There may be clinical trials that might be appropriate and that you qualify for, or you may learn about recent FDA-approved medications, devices or treatments that you can discuss with your treating physician or healthcare provider.
Talk with your loved ones and family members and ask for their support
Remember that your illness, disease or condition affects more than just you. Everyone in your family is likely to be affected and need to know what’s going on so they can support your path to healing. The more people you have encouraging your recovery, the more you can feel good about moving forward to get the treatment you require. While you may be afraid that this news will alienate or frighten them, the truth is that you need the support and love of those closest to you to effectively cope with this unsettling experience. If your condition or diagnosis is life-threatening, even more reason to engage your immediate family and loved ones in your healing journey.
Learning that you have a diagnosable mental health disorder is often a primary reason for seeking professional counseling. Yet, anxiety and depression are frequently experienced by those who’ve just been told by their doctor that they have a specific disease, illness, medical or mental health condition. Counseling can benefit anyone who needs help learning to cope with a short-term, acute, chronic or life-threatening diagnosis. Your doctor should be able to give you a referral or recommendations for psychological counseling or point you to resources where you can find a therapist.
Find a support group
Another extremely beneficial way to cope with a scary medical or mental health diagnosis is to find a support group in your area that focuses on helping individuals with similar issues. Two excellent resources for gathering information and finding local support groups are the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA).
Adopt a positive attitude and maintain a proactive outlook
The speed at which you heal from or overcome a medical or mental health diagnoses has much to do with your perceptions and outlook. If you see only negativity in your future, you may be embarking on a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look at the facts objectively and determine what you’ve got going for you. For example, if your condition was caught early, there’s a better chance of successfully treating it before it causes permanent damage or escalating consequences to your quality of life and living situation. While it’s true that some people just seem to deteriorate after learning they have an incurable disease or one that’s gone undetected for too long, even though they’re courageous and hopeful about their remaining days, it’s also true that a positive attitude and refusing to give up has extended the life of many, in addition to adding immeasurably to the quality of that life.
Become a champion in your healing process
Above all, refuse to allow yourself to become a victim – of circumstances, genetics, bad timing, poor choices. You must be an active participant in your healing, not a passive bystander who cannot affect the outcome. What happens to you after you get that scary diagnosis depends, in large part, to the actions you take going forward. This means that you follow your doctor’s orders, take all medications as prescribed, refrain from unhealthy and potentially addictive coping measures such as using alcohol and drugs (especially together). Also, while the occasional glass of wine may be relaxing, be aware that certain medications, even over-the-counter medications commonly used for cough, cold and flu, negatively interact with alcohol and prescription medications you may need to take. Find out from your doctor when you can be more aggressive in activities like walking outdoors, going to the gym, resuming lifestyle hobbies and pursuits. After all, if these make you feel better and get you back to more of a normal routine, they’re helpful to your recovery. Also try meditation, proven to help in overcoming many of life’s challenges.
In short, be smart, positive, hopeful and active. Remember, you can get through this.