Accepting the Journey

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Being struck with a long-term illness may feel like being stuck in a bad dream. All of a sudden, your world has changed, and things that you once believed may no longer be true.  It’s a frightening situation.

Perhaps to cope, you’ve denied this new reality, hoping that you will soon wake up and life will be back to the way it was. This response is completely understandable and normal; denial is a natural part of the grieving process when facing life with a long-term illness.  But no one can move forward when in denial, and overcoming it is a crucial step in the healing process. To get started, you must first accept that, whether you like it or not, you are on a journey.

Research Highlight: A 2014 analysis published in PLoS One examined the coping mechanisms and psychological and health outcomes in women diagnosed with breast cancer. The analysis found that positive strategies for coping with stress, including acceptance, were related to better well-being and health, while negative strategies, such as avoidance, were associated with poorer outcomes.

You might be thinking something along the lines of, “I don’t want a #%&!ing journey; I just want to get rid of this disease!” If there is an easy fix for your long-term illness, you should absolutely take it. If a simple surgery or a well-established regimen of medication will cure your illness without having a major impact on your quality of life, absolutely go for it. But, if this simple fix doesn’t exist, odds are that you are on a journey.

It can be helpful to look at your diagnosis as an opportunity, which at this stage in your journey may understandably be a very difficult thing to do, especially if you’ve just been recently diagnosed. But for many people, being confronted with a long-term illness can be a turning point, and the motivation to live a more thoughtful, purposeful, and healthier life. Although it seems counter-intuitive, illness can actually be a life-enhancing, by forcing us to take stock of what matters in life, and for many of us, to nourish our whole selves for the first time.

Accepting your journey and the reality of your life with a long-term illness does not mean that your illness gets to define you or gain control over the choices that lay ahead. In fact, it means just the opposite. Acceptance is a step toward gaining control and becoming empowered; it is the first step on a journey which has the potential to bring out the best in you. It takes strength and courage to accept the reality of life with a long-term illness; determination and perseverance to commit to taking a proactive approach to your healthcare; hope to achieve healing. Let the journey ahead define you, not your long-term illness.

TIP: Grief, and all the emotions that comes with it, is common in the wake of a long-term illness diagnosis. No one needs to face grief alone. In addition to family and friends, a licensed psychologist can help support you through the grief process by providing you with coping strategies. Visit the American Psychological Association’s website at http://www.apa.org/index.aspx to learn more and locate a psychologist in your area – you can filter results by specialty area, such as grief, health and wellness, or pain management.

References

Kvillemo P, Branstrom R. Coping with breast cancer: a meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2014. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112733