Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.Simon Sinek
When you are seriously ill, sometimes you have to be the calm one to support your friends and family. My daughter and I were discussing my previous post, Sick With What? She thought it was an accurate overview of that first year of acute systemic scleroderma, but that I had failed to impart the drama, particularly the event last year just before Christmas when my kidneys failed and my heart function was rapidly deteriorating. I was somewhat taken aback and asked “Did I ever make you feel like things weren’t going to be okay?” to which she replied that it wasn’t me but the doctors and nurses. The Cardiologist had made my situation out to be quite dire apparently. She also pointed out that the team from the kidney clinic I had been attending seemed emotional and, she felt, looked upon my family with pity which had scared them too.
The truth is I was in pretty rough shape. When I was admitted I was feeling terrible: extremely weak, severe pains in my legs and back, nausea, cold and fatigued — I was very uncomfortable. When I was brought into the apheresis clinic for a plasma exchange, the nurses whom I’d come to know over the previous few months as an outpatient seemed, dare I say, worried. I remember telling one of them as I was wheeled in not to worry, I was not afraid and I knew things would be okay.
This all happened in the week before Christmas. My extended family was so concerned and stressed they felt like we should postpone our annual Christmas celebration to a later date (when I was discharged from hospital). I asked them to be more pragmatic and requested that they just keep to the original plans. Finally I insisted that they stop panicking; I recall telling two of my family members in a joking but firm manner, “I will tell you when to panic!”
They say that most of the things that we worry about never happen. Well, as it turned out I was in hospital for nearly four weeks over the holidays. Friends would say it was so sad, nobody wants to be in the hospital over the holidays… well, to keep things in perspective, most people do not want to be in the hospital EVER! That being said, a lovely young intern on duty December 24th ran all over the hospital to get approvals ensuring I could be home with my family for Christmas on a day pass. Sure, it wasn’t ideal but everyone pitched-in to make it a wonderful day, in some ways even sweeter than a typical holiday.
The Power of a Positive Affirmation
News of your illness may be scary, but the reactions of friends and family may be the greater shock to you than the news itself. It may be harder for them to understand or accept your diagnosis or prognosis as they have not been experiencing the symptoms or talking to the doctors all along as you have. Particularly in the case of children, as a parent or grandparent you would always like to protect them. I recall telling my family not to worry, “I’ve got the best doctors in the world (literally) and that eventually I will be fine.” I believe that by speaking positive affirmations out loud to comfort friends and family that they actually helped me to remain calm and hopeful.
I have experienced a great example of the benefits of a positive affirmation several years back during a very difficult time. My mom had breast cancer when she was in her 40’s and for many years she dealt with re-occurrences and metastases until she was 61. When she was in the late stages of her disease my younger sister was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Mom was a very emotional person, so imagine our surprise when she learned of her daughter’s diagnosis that she very calmly and without hesitation told my sister that she would be okay, “You are going to do what the doctors say and you will be fine.” It is hard to say if mom had an epiphany or demonstrated extreme bravery, but her calm and positive affirmation was so reassuring to my sister and all of us that it made the coming months easier. As it turns out it, mom’s affirmation was also prophetic in its accuracy. My mom’s positivity helped me to remain calm and optimistic about my sister’s recovery, not to mentioned serving as a great example to me. It was a tutorial in preparation for the difficulties we all encounter in life.
Not everyone is naturally optimistic; we all know someone who suffers from panic attacks and anxiety. There have definitely been times when I’ve experienced anxiety! In my experience, using positive affirmations (even if you don’t quite believe them at first) can support a more optimistic/hopeful attitude about the future.
If you feel like it is just too hard to speak these affirmations and you cannot find a way to get to ‘calm’ you are not alone! I have found that when I experienced this type of overwhelming anxiety speaking to a professional counselor (therapist, pastor or social worker) has proven extremely helpful. It isn’t always easy to come to the decision to seek the help of a pro when it comes to mental health, though you are likely already dealing with healthcare professionals to treat physical illness. Once you overcome any initial apprehensions, counselling can be extremely helpful. Ask your doctor if there is a social worker or counselor available on your healthcare team or if they can refer you to someone they know to be helpful.
In future posts I will go into more strategies for maintaining an optimistic attitude and hope to discuss further the benefits of professional counselling from my own experience. Please follow my blog for these and other ideas about being sick with optimism.