Facing Illness

Enduring suffering is hard, no matter how minor or severe, but it’s one the pieces of the puzzle we call life.

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Published: Sat 25 Aug 2012, 9:12 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 1:42 PM

Sometimes the predicament is anticipated while other times you may be completely shocked, making the bad news more difficult to absorb. Of course there’s a huge difference between being made redundant, for example, and finding out that you may be terribly ill or worst yet, suffering from a terminal illness. Nevertheless, across the spectrum of intensity, our emotional system has an interesting way of responding to the sometimes scary roller coaster ups and downs of life.

In relation to illness, it’s not just about receiving the bad news, is it? It’s highly likely that the dreadful information is communicated in the most dry, objective and emotionally void manner — especially if it’s the doctor that announces the diagnosis rather than a crying relative or friend. It’s more about the way you understand, absorb and acknowledge the fact that your life may no longer be the same as you had hoped it would be. The challenging part is processing the necessity to change many aspects of your daily dimensions, reevaluate relationships, and realign goals and ambitions.

Rarely is such a diagnosis met with a sense of logic, objectivity or calm. Many psychologists believe that people go through different stages before reaching a healthy level of acceptance.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has worked with terminally ill patients and their families for decades and she identified the following five stages, which are commonly experienced by people confronting serious or terminal illnesses. These stages have come to be known as “the grieving cycle”:

1. Denial and isolation - By denying what has occurred people give themselves the time to gather their inner resources for coping with a painful reality.

2. Anger — When it becomes impossible to continue to deny what has happened, the next stage is frequently anger. People ask, “Why does it have to happen to me. It’s not fair.”

3. Bargaining - In an effort to postpone dealing with a situation and feelings which seem overwhelming, people affected by the type of trauma associated with terminal illness often try to make some type of bargain with a higher power. The bargain that is made often reflects guilt that people feel about something they have not done or people that they have hurt.

4. Depression — People are unable to keep up the sense of numbness associated with denial or the rage that is part of stage two. These feelings are gradually replaced by a deep sense of sadness and loss.

5. Acceptance — If a person has had the opportunity to work through the previous four stages, he or she can come to a point of quiet acceptance.

This process shouldn’t be rushed. Let it happen naturally. The last stage doesn’t mean the person has given up or surrendered to the illness. Quite the contrary; it’s moving past those angry feelings to a deeper understanding of the bigger patterns of life, inevitable circumstances and focusing on the future rather than drowning in the current situation. It liberates your powers to work on recovery and rehabilitation.

In order to reach acceptance, a few key steps should be taken which include;

  • Asking your doctor, family and friends to be as frank, honest and transparent about the prognosis as possible. This isn’t a time to deal with uncertainty or unanswered questions and therefore ambiguity is likely to only cause anxiety and stress.
  • Make sure you’ve asked for a second or even third opinion. There are numerous examples, throughout different cultures and history, of people who have been incorrectly diagnosed – why take that chance?
  • While examining and taking care of your physical health, make sure you’re in tuned to your emotional and psychological well being as well. Speak to those you trust about your thoughts and feelings. Perhaps if necessary, seek the help of a clinic psychologist so that accumulated frustration, bitterness and resentment can be released.
  • Perhaps certain life changes will be necessary however don’t forget about activities you enjoy or ignore close family and friends by isolating yourself.
  • Try and avoid becoming a victim to the disease and instead use your inner resources and strength so that you respond better to treatment.

Being diagnosed with a serious health ailment or terminal disease is of course devastating and can take its toll both on the person and their loved ones. However, in some cases, it can also be a blessing in disguise, inviting you to think about your values, priorities, living conditions, and overall purpose in life.

Remember, learning more results in living more…over to you…

Samineh I Shaheem is an author, an assistant professor of psychology, currently lecturing in Dubai, as well as a cross-cultural consultant at HRI. She has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and the UAE. She co-hosts a radio programme (Psyched Sundays 10-12pm) every Sunday morning on Dubai Eye discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community. 

Please forward your thoughts and suggestions for future articles to OutOfMindContact@gmail.com



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