To cope with serious diagnosis, grieve first

There’s no right way to grieve for the loss of anyone or anything. And that’s true for loved ones, close friends, beloved pets or even your own health when given a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis or some other disabling disease.

In all cases you are affected by grief; it is only natural. Ok, with a disease like MS that is not fatal in itself, you are not sad because of a death but soon after a neurologist gives you the news it’s natural to grieve for the healthy life you have lost.

Experts will tell you that grief is a five-stage process and I am not going to argue with them. However, it is important to realise that we are all different and that there is no right or wrong way to come to terms with a loss like this.

The five stages that I have mentioned are sometimes described slightly differently but, basically, are:

Denial: “No, that can’t be right. It’s not true.”

Anger: “The doctor took too long to diagnose it.”; “It’s (insert anyone here, even God)’s fault.”

Bargaining: “What if I had realised earlier that something was wrong?”; “What if I had gone to the doctor sooner?”; “What if I had lived a healthier lifestyle?”

Depression: “Why me? Why have I got this awful disease?”; “Why can´t I (do this or that)?”

Acceptance: “I may have this disease but I am going to live the best life that I can.”

MS_DiagnosisWhen you first find out that your symptoms and test results add up to a diagnosis of MS, it can be hard to grasp the import of the words.  Multiple sclerosis is a term you have probably heard but don’t know much about; “didn’t Mary have that? She was in a wheelchair.”

In my case, probably because I was relieved to know what was wrong, I skipped the first four stages and went straight to acceptance and then to learning more.

Talking of learning, as soon as you can, and again this is different for everyone, it’s time to find out more about MS and the good news is that there are plenty of sources of authoritative information on the internet

If you haven’t slipped into a black pool of suffering and despair, it’s now time to learn to cope with your abilities.

“Abilities? Surely I need to cope with my disabilities,” I can hear you say.

No, you don’t. You really need to focus on what you can do and how to do it. Yes, of course, remember good times from your past but accept that is now the past. It is now time to look to the present and future without fear but with planning.

For example, if you decide to move, you might want to consider choosing a bungalow or ground floor apartment; you may want to think about a level access. You might want to move to a property that has a bathroom that could be converted to a wet room.

Even if you can walk unaided now, you may want to consider moving to somewhere that could be easily adapted to enable wheelchair access. You may never need it but forward planning is best. An occupational therapist once told me that, when planning home adaptations for someone with a disability, she is not allowed to work on the current level of the person’s ability but has to think what it could be like 20 years ahead.


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