“Your orientation to your life and your disease is the starting place. Everything else tends to work itself out.”
~ Jessica Flanigan
Chronic illness and medical conditions have this way of infiltrating nearly everything. In fact, it’s difficult to find an area of your life that is not affected by your health. In addition to disease-specific symptoms, you may be dealing with strong emotions, pain, and fatigue. When you aren’t feeling well (or you don't feel good about yourself), you may prefer to be alone so you isolate from friends and social activities. As your life changes, you may feel a loss of control, sadness, worry, and uncertainty of what lies ahead. Prolonged stress can lead to frustration, hopelessness, numbness, and sorrow. Pretty soon your stress begins to shape your feelings about life in general, not just today’s frustrations.
While all of us will experience illness, pain, and suffering at one time or another, few of us are equipped to deal with it. All too often, we respond in ways that are self-defeating or self-destructive in the long-run.
Counseling can help you learn psychological skills to manage the painful experiences of illness, in such a way that they will have much less impact and influence. Your focus will no longer be about reducing symptoms or waiting to feel better; instead you’ll focus on moving towards a rich, full, and meaningful life while letting go of the battle with pain and discomfort.
In therapy, we may address some of these common issues:
Navigating a new diagnosis (acute, chronic, or terminal)
Coping with an undiagnosed or mysterious illness
Managing multiple illnesses at the same time
Dealing with relentless physical symptoms
Blaming oneself for being sick
Communicating effectively with doctors and medical professionals
Advocating for your health care needs
The inability to visit with friends, participate in family gatherings, and take part in other social activities
Coping with uncertainty about the future
Dealing with the disappointment of failed treatments
Coping with depression, anxiety, anger and other feeling
Adjusting to changing family and societal roles
Feeling ignored by family or friends or having your illness minimized, misunderstood, or dismissed
Finding meaning and purpose in your illness
Adjusting to changes your body image, quality of life, and relationships
Reducing health risk behaviors
Medical fears, phobias, and avoidance
Concerns about death
Creating a legacy and memories, managing survivorship, and end-of-life issues
For some people, their medical condition presents a less earthshaking but still challenging set of logistical and practical obstacles to deal with. As I hope the above list shows, there are a number of different ways that therapy can be helpful throughout a wide range of degrees of distress.