How Do I Manage The Emotions of My Terminal Illness?
Being informed you have either a chronic, or terminal illness is news nobody ever expects to hear. So, what happens when you’re suddenly faced with this life-altering information and you have to start managing the emotions of terminal illness?
Diagnosis of a terminal illness brings about a wide variety of emotions – whether you’re hit with them immediately, or you take some time to process them. Your priorities are suddenly shifted, and the amount of challenges you now face has doubled.
While it might not seem possible, or even easy, keeping a positive attitude and practicing peace can not only increase your quality of life in the time you have left, but can actually make the entire process easier for both you and your loved ones.
So, how is this done? How can you practice hope and self-compassion while remaining self-aware during a serious medical diagnosis? Let’s talk about it.
Your Emotions Post Diagnosis:
If you’ve just been told you have either a terminal illness or a chronic one, you may be surprised at the way you’re feeling. Some individuals are suddenly bombarded with hysteria, depression, and an overflow of tears. Some, on the other hand, feel quite ‘matter of fact’ about death and dying, to their own surprise.
No matter how you’re handling the news, understand that each person’s journey is unique and there is no right or wrong way to feel.
A few emotions you may be going through include:
As time passes you may find you go through waves of different emotions. While at first, you may have felt in denial, after a few months you might come to accept what’s happening.
Most people, unless they have an extremely high level of emotional regulation, will be unable to take it all in right away. Hearing you have a terminal illness can be quite surreal, so it’s important to show yourself love and accept the emotions you’re feeling no matter what they are.
How To Cope With Your Emotions During a Terminal Illness:
Knowing that death is near can take a massive toll on your mental health, as well as your loved ones. This is why it’s incredibly important to learn how to cope with these emotions in order to make the time you have a positive experience.
Healthily managing your emotions has been proven to influence acceptance levels, increase communication with loved ones, and create a balance of hope and honesty during an extremely difficult process.
Here are a few ways to cope with the emotions of a terminal illness:
Educate Yourself On Fear:
While almost everyone is afraid of death it can help to pinpoint exactly what part of death you’re afraid of most. Do you wonder if it will hurt? Are you struggling with the unknown of what comes after? Is it the impact on your loved ones after you pass? Or perhaps it’s something else completely? For some of us it is physical, for some it is spiritual and for some it can rest in logistics or relationships or something entirely different.
Empowering yourself with education on exactly what you’re afraid of can help manage it. Fear can drive emotions such as depression, anxiety, and helplessness so taking time to face it head-on can diffuse such powerful feelings.
Channel Your Anger:
It’s quite rare someone ever feels ‘ready to die. However, these feelings of resentment and anger toward our situation can lead us to take our negative emotions out on those closest to us.
A terminal illness is unfair – and your feelings are completely valid! However, it’s not in your own best interest – or the interest of your loved ones – to spend your days angry at them. Try and find an outlet to release your anger directed at your disease, rather than at anyone person or thing in particular.
Tackle Guilt and Regret as Quickly as Possible:
It’s very normal for a person nearing the end of life to feel immense regret about things they did or did not do. You may feel like you should have made different choices, said something you should have said, or taken a risk you should have taken.
While this is common to feel, guilt and regret changes nothing. It’s unhelpful to think about the would have / should haves unless you have a time machine.
Worrying about your past won’t relieve your burdens, in fact, it may make them much stronger. In this particular instance, it’s extremely helpful to allow yourself a ‘free pass. Guilt and shame have no place in your end-of-life care, and it must stay that way.
Nurture Your Grief:
One of the scariest emotions you may be feeling is the immense grief that comes along with a terminal illness. You may be grieving the loss of a life you had planned, grieving your children or significant other before you’re even gone, or you may be grieving the physical functions you no longer have.
Many, many emotional losses come before the loss of life itself so it’s important to take time to nurture that grief. Instead of isolating yourself from others and choosing to deal with grief on your own, talk to someone.
A friend, a partner, or even your medical team. It may take a few times, but talking about your grievances will help alleviate the burden they cause.
How To Maintain Self-Awareness During The End of Life:
While it’s likely you have a team of medical professionals by your side day and night, you’re the only one who knows exactly what you’re feeling at exactly the time you feel it.
While the thought of your final days can feel overwhelming, it may make it easier to understand what that process may look like. Knowing what to expect can make it less frightening and more prepared.
There are a few conditions to look out for in order to maintain a more positive level of self-awareness during this time.
- Shortness of breath
- Decreased appetite and thirst
- Extreme fatigue
- Seeing loved ones that have passed
- Cold hands and feet
- Skin mottling
While each person’s death will look different, being on the lookout for these can help you become more aware when death may be near. This can give you time to say goodbye to your loved ones, and have those you care about around you when you pass.
Dying Is a Natural Process:
Everyone will die eventually. If you’re an individual with a terminal illness it just may be that your time has come sooner than others. Once you accept you have limited time left you can begin spending your final days, weeks, or years living each and every day with meaning and fulfillment.
It’s common for terminally ill patients to feel as though they’re a burden and to begin to isolate themselves from loved ones. But I want to reassure you this is certainly not the case. In most circumstances, loved ones simply don’t know what to say or how to act, so it’s up to you to keep communication open with them about the way you’re feeling. And yes, there are counselors who specialize in helping people and their families through this transition.
Whether you feel denial, anger, shock, sadness, grief, or acceptance it’s all normal. The sooner you can embrace your emotions, the sooner you can make your time count.