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So You’ve Been Diagnosed With a Chronic Illness

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If you’ve recently received a new chronic health diagnosis, you may be in the midst of a real swirl of emotions: shock, relief, numbness, anger, sadness and more.

Hiding under the covers may seem like a pretty good option right about now, right? Please know you’re not alone. I’ve been there, and I know it can be especially hard to navigate these first few days and weeks.

Here are a few thoughts to support you one step at a time:

You don’t have to have all the answers right now.

When it comes to receiving a new diagnosis, you may feel intense pressure to begin taking action right away. There may be an urge to research treatment options and find out every last thing there is to know about this mysterious disease. That’s totally natural! Luckily, there are medical practitioners out there whose entire careers are dedicated to supporting people in your position.

Most people don’t have all the answers this early in the game. And while there isn’t a right or wrong way to act in the days and weeks after your diagnosis, know this: you’re allowed to take some time just to be.

Thoughts may be moving a mile a minute right now, so it’s important to create moments of rest and ease amidst what can feel like internal chaos. Whether it’s deciding to take a walk to slow down and soak up the natural world, staring at a wall for a while (seriously, you get to do this), or lounging on your couch watching Netflix for an hour or two, it’s OK — and even crucial — to give yourself breaks from the intensity.

You deserve support.

We weren’t meant to do this life thing alone. Call, text and meet up with the people you care about. Talk to them about what you’re going through. Ask for their opinions (if you want them). Invite them to attend medical appointments with you. Even if you don’t feel the necessity of companionship right now, it helps to be proactive about reaching out for support early in the game. Make time to laugh, cry, commiserate, watch a movie, and even sit quietly with your favorite people. You may find this huge challenge is a bit sweeter with them by your side.

You’re the CEO of your decision-making process.

Just like the day before your diagnosis, you’re still in charge of your life decisions. Having a chronic illness doesn’t change that.

Family, friends, partners and medical staff will likely have suggestions for what you should do next. While I recommend paying close attention to what your doctors prescribe, it’s important that you know each decision about your body is ultimately up to you.

Your emotions (and your loved ones’ emotions) may be running high. This can add extra pressure to make a quick decision that may not be in alignment with what you actually want. Whether you choose to seek a second opinion, do more research on your own or hold off on a painful procedure, you’re allowed to call the shots or ask for more time to decide.

Tough and beautiful experiences lie ahead.

Yes, living with a chronic illness has its challenges; yet in my experience, there are some good and even amazing things that can come from having them. Through it all, you may discover the power of your own resilience, build new friendships with people who really get what it’s like to have the same diagnosis, or develop an even more excellent sense of humor.

And if it’s hard to believe there’s a silver lining in this moment, let me hold that hope for you.

A few days after I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I received these sage words in an email from Jerie Jacobs, a new “chronic illness buddy,” that turned out to be very true for me in the years to come:

Your life will change in some ways, it’s inevitable. But some of those changes will be glorious. It truly is an exquisite journey. You will find depths of strength and power and patience in yourself that you never knew you had. And joy and compassion. You’re standing at the foot of a bright mountain. The climb will be hard, but the views will take your breath away.

Are you at the beginning of your chronic illness journey? If you’d like the support of a caring therapist on your side, let’s connect; you deserve it.

Follow this journey on Lauren Selfridge Psychotherapy.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: January 12, 2017
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