There’s an old adage that says that if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything. But where does that leave you when you are confronted with a new health diagnosis? If the diagnosis is a serious and chronic one, then you will have to learn to accept the idea that an illness will be a part of your life story. Integrating illness into your sense of personal identity can feel like an impossible endeavor, especially in the early stages of the diagnosis.
But even when the diagnosis is not serious, when it indicates an issue that is easily resolved or largely manageable, chances are you have already been through quite an ordeal in the weeks and months leading up to your diagnosis. And that can leave emotional wounds that require time and care to heal.
But, though illness may have become a part of your life, it does not have to become your entire life. Though you may have an illness, that does not have to mean that your illness will have you. At the end of the day, you are not your illness. No matter the diagnosis, whether serious and chronic or acute and treatable, you are still you.
And because of that, you hold the power to cope with even serious illness and build your best life — one day, sometimes one moment, at a time. This article provides specific techniques you can begin using today to help you deal with the physical, emotional, and psychological impacts of a new health diagnosis.
Allow (Some) Time to Grieve
The first and perhaps most important thing to remember when you are dealing with a new health diagnosis, no matter the treatment or prognosis, is that you must allow yourself to feel what you feel. If your condition is resolved through treatment, you will still need time and support to recover from the emotional trauma that accompanies sickness and the diagnostic process.
Similarly, if your condition is serious and chronic, then, almost inevitably, you’re going to go through a mourning period. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s normal — even healthy. Giving yourself permission to go through a grieving process will be an important step on your journey to acceptance and emotional healing.
If you have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, especially one resistant to treatment or characterized by an unpredictable disease trajectory, you will likely mourn the loss of the future you had expected, the sense of self that you knew before your diagnosis. Grieving the life you enjoyed and the future you imagined before your diagnosis means that you are likely going to go through a range of emotions, from denial to anger to depression.
And processing your emotions in the face of illness, even if that illness has been successfully treated, is not a linear process. In the early days, weeks, and even months after your diagnosis, you’re almost certainly going to cycle through emotional highs and lows many times. You may feel rage in one moment and despair in the next.
The key, though, is to not allow yourself to become stuck in these emotions. Depression, anger, and denial are healthy responses to a painful experience, whether the outcome is positive or negative. When these emotions begin to consume your life, however, then they’re no longer helping you move through the grief to reach healing and acceptance. They are entrapping you in a self-destructive pattern that will steal more from you and the people who love you than your diagnosis ever could.
Even if you feel that you are coping well, however, enlisting the support of a mental health professional can provide essential help, comfort, and perspective as you move from grief to acceptance. Doing so can also be quite convenient, as many therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists now provide mental healthcare online.
An important part of coping with a diagnosis is accessing the resources you need to move forward into your best possible life. This is especially important if your diagnosis is serious and chronic. It’s important to begin early on in identifying the support and the tools you will need to accommodate your health condition.
For example, your condition may make it difficult or impossible for you to work. This is true not only of physical health conditions but also of many mental illnesses. However, you don’t have to risk exacerbating your illness to protect your family’s financial well-being. Government disability assistance programs, such as the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, cover an array of physical and mental illnesses, including psychotic, depressive, traumatic, and neurocognitive disorders.
If you can continue working post-diagnosis, then it is wise to speak with your employer concerning your present and future needs. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required by federal law to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with a documented medical need.
However, even beyond the issue of exercising your rights under the terms of the ADA, speaking openly and honestly with your employer about your circumstances and your needs can be incredibly empowering.
This is especially true when it comes to mental illness, which continues to be met all too often with secrecy and stigmatization. Openness about a mental health diagnosis will not only increase the likelihood that you will receive the support you need in your workplace, but it can also help to cultivate a workplace culture of awareness and acceptance. And that will be a benefit not only for you but for the entire organization.
Confronting a health diagnosis also means facing the fear that so often accompanies illness, both chronic and acute, treatable and untreatable. Suddenly, your once certain future may not feel quite so certain anymore. You may spiral into an abyss of what-ifs. You may find yourself fixating on all the potential complications that may arise. You may find yourself expecting disasters that have not yet and may never come.
And that’s no way to live, so you need to do all you can to stop the worry spiral before it begins. Avoid the temptation to go down the Google rabbit hole for every existing or potential symptom. Consult only reputable sources and, most importantly, find a healthcare team you trust and turn to them to validate whatever information you may discover and to offer advice on any health decisions you may make.
Above all, stay in the moment. Do not waste today by borrowing trouble from tomorrow. Incorporating mindful meditation into your daily routine can help significantly in combating anxiety and worry, enabling you to remain in the moment. And the science also suggests that mindful meditation yields important health benefits, including improved immune and cardiovascular function and decreased pain.
Coping with a new health diagnosis is a difficult process. But with time, support, and care, it is possible to accept your new reality and move forward into a happy and fulfilling life. After all, no matter what the diagnosis, you are still you, and because of that, there are brighter days to come.
Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.