Fear of change is one type of fear you may be confronted with on the road ahead. However, the fear associated with illness often goes far beyond the discomfort caused by change. You may fear for your future, or that of your loved ones. Fear of pain, fear of dependence, fear of being defined by your long-term illness, fear of dying…
These are all valid and normal fears to experience in the wake of a long-term illness diagnosis. Much of this fear is often rooted in one hazy concept: the unknown. Being diagnosed with a long-term illness suddenly transforms our future from a well-thought out plan (even though we know plans rarely play out as such) to a black box, containing truths unknown. When faced with the unknown, especially as it relates to illness, it’s easy to take a worst case scenario approach. Oftentimes, all we know of a disease is its worst possible outcome, usually through personal stories of others, the media, or the Internet search that inevitably turns up the most dire outcomes of a disease.
Worst case scenarios rarely come to fruition. Most often, long-term illnesses follow a rather standard progression hovering somewhere in the middle between “worst case scenario” and “miraculous recovery”. When faced with the unknown, especially as it relates to a long-term illness, your mental state and outlook can make a big difference in your quality of life. Focusing on the worst case scenario can quickly lead to a negative spiral of anxiety, depression, and isolation: all conditions which are known to negatively influence health outcomes.
On the other hand, focusing on realistic alternatives to the worst case scenario – and better yet, best case scenarios – can instill hope, happiness, and optimism, all powerful forces in recovery and healing. Remember, most prognoses and treatment outcomes are based on the average patient. Why not aim for outcomes that exceed the average, or are even extraordinary? Someone is bound to achieve them, why not you?
Fear associated with long term illness is powerful, but you can harness its power for good. Fear can motivate us to take a proactive approach to our health and to do everything within in our control to tip the scales from “worst case scenario” to “best case scenario”.
“Hope is clear-eyed. It sees all the realities that you face, all the obstacles, all the problems, all the potential for failure. But through that, it sees as well a possible path to a better future. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s possible.” – Dr. Jerome Groopman, MD
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