If you’ve recently come across this diagnosis, whether in yourself or a family member, chances are things are looking a little dark right now. And that is 100% ok. I’m here to say that it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, you may find that the future looks pretty bright.
I’ve never been a super emotional person. My personal philosophy is very often to bury emotions until you physically cannot hold it inside and that is 100% not a healthy way to deal with them. Trust me I’ve tried it…multiple times. On the day I got diagnosed I tried to hold it in. I managed to make it to the car. My mom told me that it was like we needed to go through the 5 stages of grief, and she’s right. I didn’t lose a family member but I still needed to grieve for the life I thought I would have. I can’t imagine how hard it is to do that if you lost a family member as well. Whatever our situation, most people can find a way to cope and in time, it gets easier.
I have a serious dislike of crying in public, so much so that it almost borders on a fear. So the first thing I’d like to say is don’t be afraid to cry or do whatever you need to do to get that emotion out. There’s a song called “Missing you” by All Time Low (which I highly recommend listening to) and one of the lines that stands out the most to me is this:
Grit your teeth, pull your hair,
Paint the walls black and scream, “F$%# the world
‘Cause it’s my life, I’m gonna take it back, ”
And never for a second blame yourself.
It may be a little dramatic but hey if you need to pull your hair or paint the walls black – go for it. You do you. I personally find screaming to be very therapeutic. My second favorite is taking a drive and blasting some Three Days Grace. Maybe you need to curl up with some tea and watch some trashy TV. Whatever you do, don’t ignore what you’re feeling. The second part of that line is equally as important. I know in my experience it felt like my life was crumbling around me and I was powerless to stop it. But that’s not the case. It’s your life and you can and should take it back, for a very simple reason: you deserve it. It’s your life and you should be safe but just being alive is not living. Existing is not living and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just existing is not acceptable. Quality of life is important too.
The 5 stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They aren’t linear and there are no time requirements. You can go from denial to depression back to anger and bargaining. Order doesn’t matter and you could be in 1 stage for 20 minutes and another for weeks. My point is that there is no specific way to grieve, don’t let anyone tell you what or how to feel. What works for me may not work for you and that’s ok. Your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid.
All that being said I’m going to write about what it was like for me.
I went through denial pretty quick. I think it’s because in my case, I had a problem. The problem was that I’d been banned from rowing and I am a person that when there is a problem, I have to fix it. So I set my sights on fixing said problem. I had a lot of quiet bargaining and lot of very not quiet anger. I was angry at a lot of things. I was angry at the doctor who diagnosed me, angry at the official who made me get out of the boat, a little bit angry at the people who convinced my mom to take me to the ER, but I was really angry at God. That last part is sort of a separate story and will be told in a different post but I felt it needed to be said. Anyway, I had lots of anger and I was likely not a very fun person to be around.
I think the major stage for me and a lot of others is depression. I probably spent literal years in that stage. The interesting thing about that is that I didn’t even realize how unhappy I was until I was happy if that makes any sense. It’s like how once you’re soaked from the rain, you stop noticing the rain. The second lesson I’d like to share is that there is no shame in asking for help. Some things are too big to handle by yourself. I got medication for my depression and it helped. There’s no shame in taking medication or going to therapy. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Depression is tough but you can make conscious choices to help yourself. You might not be able to do it right after and that’s ok. I am not saying that depression is something that can be cured by the power of positive thinking because it’s not. I’m not trying to minimize depression because it is real and your feelings are real. I don’t think that you can magically make it go away with a look on the bright side and some nature. It’s real and it’s hard, but it’s too easy to get sucked into that spiral and never be able to find a way out. The light is there, you just have to look really hard for it sometimes. A little extra effort sometimes seems like trying to climb a mountain in one step, but sometimes you might just make that mountain smaller.
I just recently made a conscious choice to be more optimistic. I was tired of being sad. I refuse to have any more doom and gloom in my life (There’s too much of it in this world anyway. You know what they say, change starts with a single person). I decided to make a conscious effort to look on the bright side. I used a mindfulness trick where you acknowledge the bad things and then imagine them floating away and being replaced by good things. Do I still have bad days? Of course, but they’re a lot fewer and I’m much happier. I literally stop to smell the roses. I splash in puddles when it rains because why not? I kind of force myself into happiness, I do things that I know I like because I know it’ll make me feel better. Fake it til you make it right?
I’d like to leave you with another musical quote that has helped me. It’s from a song called Miracle by Paramore.
I’ve gone for too long
Living like I’m not alive
So I’m gonna start over tonight
When this memory fades
I’m gonna make sure it’s replaced
With chances taken, hope embraced
For me, life without rowing wasn’t really living. I had to go find a new doctor who would take my mental health into account. I got a second chance at life, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste it. The pain has faded and I’m replacing it with life, spontaneity, and hope for what the future holds.