5 Tips for Accepting Your New Diagnosis
In our culture, receiving a new diagnosis can sometimes feel like a defining label. There is so much stigma around health and disability, and it can be daunting to try to wrap our minds around receiving a new diagnosis. I have multiple mental and physical illnesses that I am still working on accepting, but I have also found a way to prioritize my health without letting my illnesses define me. I still struggle with the stigma surrounding health (mental illness especially) each day, but I have come to realize that I am not alone, and neither are you.
Over the past two years I have received the diagnoses of schizoaffective disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, fibromyalgia, and multiple eating disorders. I am also currently in the process of undergoing tests for some gastrointestinal issues I am experiencing, and my sole focus over the past two years has been largely on my health. I have struggled with my mental health for most of my life, but it has only been recently that I have sought out help for myself and received these official diagnoses. To say that receiving these diagnoses has been overwhelming would be an understatement. I can honestly say that I still haven’t been able to accept my illnesses 100% but I am working on mindfulness and acceptance one day (or actually one minute) at a time.
To help you on your journey, I have compiled the following tactics that have helped me in the process of accepting my diagnoses and focusing on healing. I hope they help you as well.
1) Your new diagnosis/diagnoses are a part of you and your story – but they aren’t your whole story.
While many times a new diagnosis can feel overwhelming or even astronomical (or at least it was for me with many of my diagnoses), try to keep in mind that your diagnosis is a part of you and your story, but it is not your whole story. Sometimes receiving a diagnosis may even feel like a relief if you have been seeking help for your health for quite a long time. However, in both cases, it is important to remind yourself that your diagnosis is a facet of your life, and while it may impact many — if not all — aspects of your life, you are still what you love, your hobbies, your interests, your relationships, what you are passionate about, etc. A diagnosis may influence these throughout your health journey, but in no way does it replace anything about you. While others may try to label a person based on their diagnosis, stay true to who you are, and you will rise above this.
2) Acceptance of a new diagnosis is not linear — there may be some days where you feel more accepting than others (and that is OK!)
In my personal journey, I have had many up and down days regarding how I feel about my diagnoses and how they impact how I feel about myself. Even though it has been a couple of years since I have received some of my diagnoses, some days I still feel deeply impacted by my anxiety and conflicting feelings about them. Your journey to acceptance of your diagnosis is yours alone, and how you feel will vary from day to day. Just try to remember to be patient with yourself, and practice self-care. What you are feeling is valid, and you are allowed to feel your feelings.
3) You get to decide who you tell about your diagnosis — and how much you want to tell them about your experience.
This tip is particularly important. On my journey, I have had situations where I am completely open and honest about my diagnoses, but others have not been so kind. My therapist has told me to imagine that you are a house, and you get to decide who you allow in your house, or even your front lawn. You get to decide who you tell about your health and your diagnosis or diagnoses, and you should never feel pressured to share more than you feel comfortable. Try to determine where your window of tolerance is regarding when, how, and who you talk to about your diagnosis, and try to stay within that window so you are comfortable. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Your safety is of utmost importance (this includes your physical, emotional, and mental safety).
4) Your experience is yours — don’t let anyone tell you how you should be feeling, or assume you are feeling any which way.
Having a new diagnosis can be tricky, because oftentimes other people (who may be well-meaning) try to share their experience with your diagnosis if they have firsthand experience, or they share the experiences of those close to them who may also share the same diagnosis. I have found this can often be harmful because others may be assuming how you are feeling, or they may not take the time to listen to your firsthand experience with your diagnosis. Try to take what other people are telling you in stride, and feel free to ask them to stop or to listen to your story. In no way should you feel as though you have to absorb what others are telling you about your diagnosis. Also, it may be helpful for you to share your experience on a site such as The Mighty. This has helped me to create connections and increase understanding around my own illnesses.
5) Not everyone will be understanding or accepting of your diagnosis — what matters is that you focus on your own health and try not to let others define how you feel.
This final tip may be the hardest to come to accept. There is still so much stigma surrounding various diagnoses, and I have found that particularly with my schizoaffective disorder and borderline personality disorder diagnoses, many people have not been very accepting of me. I have even had relationships end because of the negativity and stereotypes that surround these diagnoses. While it still hurts me when someone judges me based solely on my diagnoses, I try to remind myself that those who are meant to be in my life will try to see me beyond them and respect me as an individual. I have also used these negative feelings in my work to create awareness surrounding my diagnoses while breaking the stigma. You are absolutely allowed to feel upset and hurt if someone judges you based on your diagnosis but try to remember that no matter how they treat you, you are a valued and worthy individual. Try to confide in those you trust to work through your feelings and your hurt, while also receiving validation.
Receiving a new diagnosis may feel like a relief to you, or you may feel more negatively about it. However, I hope you can find a way to accept it as a part of yourself and find others who will help you feel accepted and validated. I am sending my acceptance and validation out to you, and I wish you well on your healing journey.
Getty image by Kharkhan_Oleg.