I remember being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as a teenager. I felt relieved to have an answer about what was wrong with me. I finally understood why I felt the way I was feeling and how my body was reacting. My anxiety is well managed now, but for a time it wreaked havoc on my body and my mind.
There was a time when I rebelled against my diagnosis and allowed it to swallow me up. I was plagued with debilitating stomach aches, panic attacks, and rashes. My refusal to take my medication or make the lifestyle changes that my doctor recommended pushed me into a depression and allowed my anxiety to run the show.
For people hearing any type of diagnosis, there are stages of grief that many go through. Even if the diagnosis isn’t terminal, it’s normal to grieve the life you’d have without the diagnosis. These stages of grief often cause a pushback, much like it did for me. However, it’s important to work through these feelings and make the necessary lifestyle changes after a diagnosis.
The Stages Of Grief Apply
Oftentimes, grief doesn’t just apply to death, it applies to loss. A person can grieve the loss of a relationship, job, or even a big life change. For some, hearing a medical diagnosis means grieving what life would be without it. For those who are hearing a life-threatening diagnosis, the feeling of grief can be much more profound. The five stages of grief are:
- Denial: The refusal to believe it’s happening. Feeling shocked or numb.
- Anger: Feeling that the situation is unfair and frustrating.
- Bargaining: Feeling guilt, working through “what if” scenarios, and making imaginary deals to make the pain or the reason for the grief go away.
- Depression: Hopelessness, being in a fog, and immense sadness.
- Acceptance: Not a comfort with the grief, but an acceptance that it happened and that it can’t be changed.
Though my diagnosis wasn’t terminal, or even that unique, the beginning of my journey through anxiety was rooted in these stages of grief. For some, the denial stage is rooted in shock, and the acceptance stage is rooted in living more meaningfully. For me, denial, anger, bargaining, and depression created a pushback.
A medical diagnosis is not only a loss of normalcy, it’s a loss of control. In addition to the pushback that comes from the beginning stages of grief, it also comes from the need to have some say over what is happening. A diagnosis often comes with a plan: medications to take, changes to implement in your life, treatment options, and more appointments.
For someone like me, who felt a sense of relief from my diagnosis, I still felt the need to rebel against it and what it was going to mean for my life. I didn’t want my anxiety to control me, but pushing back against my diagnosis allowed it to have an even tighter hold.
The pushback isn’t uncommon even in the most serious cases. In fact, in a small study of cancer patients, 29 percent of males and 50 percent of women reported that they were not following guidelines for a healthier lifestyle after their diagnosis.
Unfortunately, this pushback is damaging. Though it’s often a necessary part of grief in order to get to acceptance, the reluctance to make changes and follow protocol can have lasting effects. For someone hearing they have a chronic illness, a terminal diagnosis, or even a temporary medical ailment, the decisions made during the pushback can have large implications. This is why it’s important to make lifestyle changes after a diagnosis.
The Importance Of Making Changes
The need to make positive changes for your life and your body is not unique to a person with a medical diagnosis, and that can be a helpful realisation when someone is feeling the pushback. Many medical diagnoses require a person to change their diet or their exercise habits in order to help their symptoms, which can feel forced and unfair when things are already so hard.
For instance, someone with GERD may be told to stay away from alcohol, which can be limiting on a person’s social life. Someone with cancer may be told to avoid simple sugars, which can feel frustrating during an already overwhelming time. However, these changes help with symptoms and prevent further complications.
The great thing about making changes to the body is that they often affect the mind in the process. Utilising food for nourishment and prioritising exercise to help the mind are changes that can have a lasting impact on the emotional impact of grief after a diagnosis. Physical wellness and mental health are so important to take into consideration. Thankfully, helping the body can also help the mind.
Lifestyle changes aren’t always about diet and exercise; they can also be about limitations and self-care. Some diagnoses can force a person to accept that their body can’t do certain things, which is frustrating. However, making these changes is important for long-term health.
Sticking To The Plan
Making the necessary lifestyle changes after a diagnosis is a giant step in the grief process because it’s a sign of acceptance. This is not to say a person won’t feel angry or depressed at times. Acceptance doesn’t simply mean feeling okay about the diagnosis; it’s about understanding that it can’t be changed. Deciding to make the lifestyle changes necessary to manage a diagnosis shows an acceptance of the problem, no matter how frustrating it may be.
However, you can still make joint decisions about your treatment with your doctor. For instance, many in the medical community are turning to cannabis research for answers. This openness to alternative treatments or second opinions isn’t necessarily a sign of pushback as it is a sign of acceptance, openness, and ownership over a diagnosis.
Though the journey through a diagnosis may have ebbs and flows, it’s important to come back to a place of acceptance. That’s not always a permanent place, as many volley between stages of grief and making important lifestyle changes. Some experiment with treatment plans and many different lifestyle changes to see what works and what doesn’t. Sticking to the plan is all about maintaining acceptance and working on a positive outlook through a diagnosis. In truth, some feel a stronger sense of spirituality and self-love through their diagnosis. Though that’s not true for everyone, and isn’t attainable in certain stages of grief, it’s a thought process that can be helpful through a diagnosis long-term.
Truthfully, I sometimes backtrack into different stages of grief. Having a panic attack in a setting that most people can navigate with ease leaves me feeling frustrated and bitter. Bouts of depression plague my treatment, and I often beg the world to allow me to live without medication. However, that’s not my reality. For me, my lifestyle changes had to do with my diet, my mental health, and an understanding of my limitations. Though my diagnosis has been a difficult journey, it’s also been a lesson in how impactful it is to make the appropriate lifestyle changes for your health, no matter how difficult it can be.