1) Seek Out Information
The more information you have about the chronic illness you’ve been diagnosed with the more in control of the situation you will feel. Don’t just do a google search though – this is a sure-fire way to find all kinds of fear-mongering and bogus sites. Instead, take a little time to seek out reliable sources of information. Books that are stocked in your local bookstore or library are a great idea if available (the number and range of books you can find in stores will depend greatly on how common your diagnosis is). You know these books have been through a vetting process to get published in the first place (unlike many eBooks) and are popular enough to receive shelf space. They will usually also contain an ‘about the author’ section where you can check the writer’s credentials and list of other works. Other potential sources of information include: reputable websites, podcasts, TV shows/documentaries, journal articles (available online), audio-books if you prefer listening to reading, and of course your doctor(s).
2) Let Yourself Grieve
You will first be in shock, then you will start the grieving process. “But no one died” I hear you say. That is very true, but the future you envisioned and planned may well have, at least to some degree. Chronic illness is a life-changing thing. Of course, exactly how much your life changes will depend on the severity of your condition – some people are able to carry on almost ‘business as usual’ with the aid of some medication, while other people will be bed-bound, in chronic pain, and dealing with several surgeries. But, wherever you fall on this spectrum, you will likely feel a loss. The key is not to fight it. Sure, you can and should use whatever ever coping strategies are available to you but don’t try to avoid the grieving process or ‘skip over it’ to acceptance. The 5 stages of grief are as follows: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Each of these stages can last anywhere from hours to weeks, but each serves a purpose. I would caution however, if you find yourself stuck in one of the stages for several months – especially anger or depression – you can and should seek the help of a medical professional. There are many things they can do to help you through this period, including referring you for counseling or therapy or prescribing a course of medication. This point leads me to my final tip…
3) Don’t Try To Go It Alone
I’m not suggesting that you tell every person you meet about your diagnosis, but you must try to find at least one person (preferably 2) that you can share every step of this journey with. It doesn’t really matter who this person is – a partner, parent, sibling, close friend, etc. – all that matters is that you trust them enough to feel comfortable sharing sometimes intimate details with them. There will probably be other people that you have to tell at least some things about your diagnosis, but it is so helpful to have someone who you can share your hopes, fears and symptomatic difficulties with. Not to mention someone to advocate for you when you may struggle to do so for yourself, another pair of eyes to monitor you for possible medication side effects, and support when things become physically and/or mentally overwhelming. Just make sure to show this person, whoever you choose, how grateful you are to have them on your side. It can be hard for them too.
This is far from an exhaustive list of things you may need in the coming days, weeks, months and even years, but I hope that these tips help you adjust during this challenging time – I sure wish someone had told me these things when I was first diagnosed! And above all, I hope you feel a little less alone after reading this. Please feel free to leave a comment if you want to discuss any of these ideas further, add any tips of your own, or if you just want to chat – I would love to hear from you!