Awareness and acceptance.

I have always thought that if you think someone has the perfect life, it just means you don’t know them well enough. Everyone has loss and sadness in their life at some point.

For me recently it has been coping with cancer. It sounds crazy but only today, four months down the track, when I read the following list, did I realise that I was grieving my loss of health:

Loss of a sense of a healthy body
Loss of family role
Loss of future plans, goals or dreams
Loss of employment
Loss of strength, physique
Loss of a sense of personal control
Loss of function
Loss of certainty

I realised that the “in-limbo” feeling was just a symptom of the grieving process I am going through, that I need to go through. Finding a proper definition, a name for it is, I think, the first step I need to take to get me out of this mess.

The next step is learning how to cope.

Loss of health, ageing, is not the same as bereavement. They are related, I guess. There is the need to process a loss.

But also there is a need to develop ongoing habits to cope with the new normal, even if that normal is ongoing uncertainty.

Here are five coping strategy suggestions I found:

1. Building self-esteem. I like to think of this as self acceptance.

With long term illness it is easy to lose your self-worth. It is hard to no long achieve things. It is hard to learn to like myself for things other than my achievements. I am trying to accept that I am just as worthwhile as anyone else. No better, no worse.

2. Positive thinking.

I prefer to think of this a realistic thinking. I don’t like being in denial. I hate cognitive dissonance. But at the same time it is good to challenge unhelpful thoughts. Just because you automatically think something doesn’t make it true.

With long term ill health there is a definite risk of entering the downward, self-perpetuating spiral of negativity and depression. I do believe that you have to actively plan daily pleasures and consciously be grateful for your blessings, however small.

3. Assertiveness

I don’t have a problem with assertiveness. I’m pretty easy going. I couldn’t pretend to be someone else to save my life.

My problem is never knowing what I want. It’s rare that I feel strongly about something. Maybe I am denial about this, but for now I’m not too worried about my assertiveness skills. (I clearly need to work on “working out what I want” skills first).

I also don’t feel the need to challenge other people’s points of view. If people disagree with me I don’t feel the need to change their mind. I am happy to silently disagree.

4. Social support

My friends have been so great. It is pretty amazing how the word cancer makes even the slightest acquaintance reach out. In a way it proves Brene Brown’s ideas on vulnerability and connection to be true:

Whether I like it or not, my hardship, my cancer is public knowledge.

I have no choice but to expose my vulnerability, and in doing so I have been blessed with such kindness. It really has confirmed the idea that being perfect is actually off-putting, and won’t get you more friends.

5. Reducing stress

Having given up work during chemo, I am not stressed due to busyness. In fact I’m kind of bored. Obviously though I’m dealing with a big amount of emotional stress, due to my uncertain future, and physical stress, due to my chemo.

People who have cancer may find the physical, emotional, and social effects of the disease to be stressful. Those who attempt to manage their stress with risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking alcohol or who become more sedentary may have a poorer quality of life after cancer treatment. In contrast, people who are able to use effective coping strategies to deal with stress, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, have been shown to have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and symptoms related to the cancer and its treatment. However, there is no evidence that successful management of psychological stress improves cancer survival.

National Cancer Institute

Step One is again to recognise the stress. Name it.
Step Two is to actively manage it. The only way out is to take action.

  • Express Your Feelings. Talk. Write them down.
  • Look for the Positive. Try not to dwell on the bad thoughts. Focus on being healthy. I need to work on building hope.
  • Don’t Try to Be Upbeat If You’re Not. Doona days are ok.
  • Find Ways to Help Yourself Relax. Headspace meditation. Massages.
  • Be as Active as You Can. I try to walk or at least sit at the beach.
  • Look for Things You Enjoy. I do need at hobby. I read and do crosswords but I need more than that. I want to eat healthier but still yummy food.
  • Look at What You Can Control. A daily schedule can give you a sense of control. Mine includes coffee and exercise. One pleasure and one achievement.