Many of us, when faced with a health setback, start to question our own vulnerability, our pride in who we are and our roles in our relationships with friends and family members.
A spell in critical care, a change to how you look as a result of an illness or an injury, like a burn, a mastectomy, or a major lifestyle change brought on by something like a heart attack, diabetes or cancer, can be a massive shock to your system.
It may radically alter the way you see yourself and those around you. But here’s the good news: life goes on and the sun will shine again.
Why is change such a shock?
"A physical change is like starting or ending a relationship, and it can be very frightening," says Jonathan Nel, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Morningside.
"Your relationship with yourself is re-evaluated and potentially threatened. Suddenly, you're aware of your mortality, and if, for example, you've lost your sight, a limb, or had a mastectomy, you've lost or changed your relationship with that function and with something that forms the basis of your physical aesthetic."
The same goes for a lifestyle overhaul. If a physician tells you that you can no longer have sugar or a fried breakfast, or that you'll have to permanently use a wheelchair, it can be perceived as an assault on your understanding of yourself as an independent, autonomous adult.
"When a relative stranger tells you how to live, it takes away your feeling of control, which, for some, can be traumatic," explains Jonathan.
What can I do to make the transition easier?
- Don't panic or put pressure on yourself. What you’ve been through is tough. Remember, recovery takes time.
- Look at what you can still do. If it’s going to work, making the kids' lunches or keeping up with setting goals (like planning that dream holiday), keep as active and involved as you can.
- Make friends with other patients. They know what you’re going through so you’re in good company. Isolating yourself makes things harder.
- Surround yourself with the best team. See experts that you like and trust.
- Learn all you can about your illness. Seek other opinions to help you make informed decisions. Empower and educate yourself: if you understand why you need to change your lifestyle, it’s easier to do it.
- Do things that give you a sense of purpose. Review old goals, like getting fit, reconnecting with old friends or starting a new hobby. Yoga and meditation can also be helpful in boosting a positive outlook.
- Ditch your regrets. Don't fret about things you did in the past, which may have played a role in your current state of health. Have a plan for how you will manage things going forward.