Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Just diagnosed? How are you feeling about your life?
Here’s what I heard from a client recently:
“Pretty much all I can think about is how my life is never going to be the same again. My life is going to be all about my health. What I have to do. What I can’t do. What I need to watch out for. To be honest, I think about all of this and I just don’t like my life anymore.”
Sure, when you are first diagnosed, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed at everything that seems to come at you at once, all of which can be summarized in one word: change. Change in such things as medication regimens. Diet. Daily routines. Along with the need to process information that, given the choice, you would rather avoid. And a whole lot of feelings being brought up. No, it’s not easy coping with a new medical diagnosis.
Living your best life starts with going through the motions
Here’s some advice that I give my clients: keep going through the motions of your life.
You might be asking, Just how do I do that? Well, here’s how:
Follow as much as you can of your daily routine. While your chronic condition may cause you to modify your daily routine in some ways, don’t assume life as you know it has ended. Don’t allow these modifications to cause you to throw your whole routine out the window. Take a look at the aspects of your daily routine that you can continue, and figure out how to integrate any necessary changes. Keep in mind that routines give us a sense of security, so hang on to as many of yours as you can.
But also embrace the reality of a new normal. The daily motions of your life are changing. Think of the future as a combination of the old and familiar aspects of your routine along with the integration of changes. Not an end, but a transition.
Keep doing what you can do. When changes must be made, it is only human nature to be tempted to throw your hands up in the air and give up on having the life you once enjoyed. While normal, it is also defeatist thinking. Sit down with yourself and make a list of the things that give your life meaning and joy. Make sure you are continuing to build these activities into your daily life, even if you have to modify either how you do them or when you do them, or both. Don’t give up on yourself.
Maintain your appearance. How we present ourselves to the outside world has a big impact both on how we perceive ourselves as well as how we are perceived by others. Sometimes, my clients can feel so frustrated and defeated by their diagnosis that, at least temporarily, they stop taking care of their appearance. They dress a little sloppy, or they don’t take care of their hair like they used to. I encourage you to continue to pay attention to how you present yourself to the world. This is a great way to tell yourself, and others, that you are indeed fully engaged in life. (I know, you may not feel like it inside.)
Make plans. Even if you end up having to make changes or cancel them. One of the most important ways to stay involved in life is to continue to make plans. Schedule time with friends, for example. Continue to attend meetings or events that you have been involved in. You may have to modify your involvement, or even cancel at the last minute. But what’s important is to maintain commitments to the best of your ability. Don’t isolate.
Watch your language. Your words are much more powerful than you think. If you are constantly telling yourself, and others, what you can’t do anymore, or how your chronic condition has changed your life for the worse, then your body and mind may act accordingly. In other words, you can talk yourself into focusing on loss, and make yourself feel worse, or you can talk yourself into focusing on what’s possible. Choose your words carefully.
Most important: don’t wait until you are feeling it. My clients often talk to me about how they just don’t feel like moving forward, how they feel stuck. What I encourage them to do is this: get moving. Whether you are feeling it or not. Take action. Let the feelings catch up later. And believe me, it works. Taking action gives you a sense of mastery, being connected with your life and with the world. And that feels pretty good.
Be patient with yourself. You are dealing with a lot, coping with a new diagnosis and potentially some big—and unwanted—changes in your life. Do the best you can. This is a reason to be kind to—and not beat up on—yourself.
So keep going through the motions of your life. To help you, here’s a great way to shift your perspective: don’t build your life around your chronic condition. Instead, integrate the management of your condition into your life. Stay connected with your life, one step at a time!
What has helped you adjust to living with a chronic condition? Comment below to share a lesson you’ve learned or a great piece of advice you heard.