A diagnosis is scary. It’s life-altering. Almost like your life suddenly becomes split into two categories: before diagnosis and after. It’s hard to remember what life was like when you were carefree, healthy, and invincible. You feel weak and broken like somehow your body is betraying itself or giving up on you. A diagnosis changes your life.
I compare it to grief. The grief of a capable, healthy body and a life full of certain expectations and dreams. As with the grieving process, there are five stages of diagnosis.
First, is denial. “Uh, are you sure” I remember asking my doctor. I didn’t eat the morning of my bloodwork and I did go out drinking the night before (a big no-no), so maybe there is some kind of mistake with the results. I experienced denial hard and I experienced it for weeks.
It’s typical to feel so invincible. You see bad things happen to people all the time, but never assume that could happen to you or someone you love. Your perception of reality is living a long, happy, and healthy life and when you receive a diagnosis it’s human nature to assume it must be some type of mistake. Truth can hurt and sometimes you don’t see it coming.
The next stage is anger and boy do you feel this. I remember thinking how could my body be doing this?? My entire life I had been so health conscious. Was this payback for my indulging moments of chicken fingers and french fries (my weakness) and one too many glasses of wine with dinner?
When I got diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) my life was in one heck of tailspin. I just got out of a long term relationship and coped in every negative way possible: late nights, booze, and binging. My anger was constantly displaced. I blamed my ex, I blamed myself, and I hated my body.
Anger can last for a long time and it can manifest itself in so many different ways. You won’t want to do the things you usually do or be around the same people you normally spend time with. Anger isolates you and before long, you may not even recognize yourself.
Next, comes the bargaining. With who? I’m not really sure. With your body, maybe God, but honestly anyone or anything. “I will never be unhealthy again, I’ll be good from now on” I would say in my head over and over again. I felt so desperate. Like somehow I brought this diagnosis on myself and I was responsible for the outcome. It was my fault.
Then the depression hits you like a ten-ton brick. I wanted to give up. The road to recovery and healing is such a daunting task I didn’t even want to try. “There is no cure” just kept replaying in my head over and over again. I still had the fact sheet the doctor gave me the day I was diagnosed and I would read it almost obsessively and see every health risk as an inevitable outcome. I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to have children, I would lose all my hair, and develop Type II Diabetes, cancer, or cardiovascular disease. With a diagnosis comes a time of deep depression and unrealistic expectations of your perceived mortality. You feel helpless, hopeless, and alone.
I never really realized I entered the stage of acceptance. It wasn’t as intense or forceful as the other stages. One day I just noticed I didn’t feel so doomed by PCOS. I began wanting to educate myself on the syndrome and start taking small steps toward healing. I explored recipes, studied nutrient supplementation, and began cooking again all in ways meant to alleviate my symptoms. Acceptance is funny that way. It comes with no warning but suddenly you’re at peace.
When you are diagnosed with an illness you are grieving the health and whole-being of your body. You are allowed to be in denial, angry, or depressed. It’s ok if it takes you months or years to feel acceptance or experience a connection with your body again. Don’t rush your process. But do seek help. There are people out there that know what you are going through. There are online communities, support groups, and even friends that want to hear how you are feeling. Never underestimate the power of connection.
My diagnosis taught me to never take anything for granted. Life is beautiful but it is also a gift. I stopped wishing for things and starting doing them. It teaches you appreciation, resiliency, and strength. I still have my moments of grief, riddled with frustration or anger. But, at the end of the day, I have faith that somehow this diagnosis was meant to be part of my journey and no matter how things end up, I’ll be okay.