Many neurological and psychiatric diseases are chronic. Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is a life changing event and emotionally challenging.
A diagnosis for a chronic illness represents a loss. A great loss, for your life will cease being as you once knew it and will take on a different character, governed by the disease.
One of the first emotions to surface – after the shock of hearing the diagnosis – is anger. There is the feeling that life has dealt you an unjust hand, and there is a need to find a culprit for this turn of events. Depending on the particular illness, the culprit can be found in different things, like sugar for a diabetic or asbestos exposure for a cancer patient. But for lupus it’s your own body, your own immune system. There is nothing out there to blame, no real culprit.
Another emotion is negation: We refuse to acknowledge we are sick, attempting to find miracle cures, which more often than not will not heal. When you realize there’s no cure, and the symptoms can come back at any moment, there comes hopelessness. No cause, no one to blame, no cure, nothing to do except suffer the symptoms endlessly. These negative emotions can consume you if you let them. To deal with them, there are a few things that I have found work:
• Acceptance. First we need to accept where we are and the new situation we find ourselves in. Only after accepting our new reality can we move forward. This step can be difficult, for no one wants to accept himself or herself as being sick. This step will take as long as the person needs to accept his/her new circumstance.
• Get to know yourself. You need to become reacquainted with your body as if you have never met it before, readjusting your sights, recalibrating your responses and measuring the effects outside factors have on you.
• Start recognizing your emotions along with the physical symptoms. Having a chronic illness sometimes resembles an emotional roller coaster, and it’s important not to bottle up any of the emotions. Even if you resemble a crazy person, it’s important to let the emotions be expressed as they come at the beginning. When you get better at knowing your new self at the emotional level, the outlets for emotions can be more constructive and calmer. The first step is always to recognize what is happening.
• Find a new purpose in life. This is something doable in your new circumstances that brings a sense of fulfillment to you. To have a purpose is to have a path to follow, like a spiritual experience, and it starts to heal the blow to the very soul the diagnosis produced.
When you get to this point, you know your new self, your emotions and how to express them, and you have adjusted your life goals to a new purpose that can be reached. And you are on your way to emotional recovery and a more stable life path. However, it’s important to keep up the work – the healthy plan. That’s a life’s work; you have to keep working on your well-being for it to stick.