Every one of us will at some point become a patient. It may be a gradual process or it may be sudden. The timing may allow you to recover and reflect - or not. You may be left with a change, with loss, with grief, with anger, with questions. You may never be the same. For those who are just beginning the process, which everyone will undergo, here are some well-wishing thoughts of guidance for you:
1. Advocate for yourself:
Medicine is a conundrum. It is a maze which you have to navigate. And when you are ill that can be hard. It's therefore important to question, to ask if you don't understand, to research and seek second opinions as much as possible, to not rely on standard medicine alone which is often insufficient, but to incorporate sensible holistic aspects of care into your life. Advocating for yourself means seeking out a cutting-edge team who will give you good state-of the art guidance, but also trusting your instincts, being brave enough to state what you want, and to modify when what is proposed doesn't make sense, or doesn't make sense for you. You must forge your own path, in accordance with what ultimately makes sense to you. Medicine is a work in progress itself; choose what you need to make it work for you.
2. Understand the time warp:
One of the toughest aspects of becoming a patient is being put in a time warp. You become hyper-focused on the exhausting process of figuring out what's going on, then trying to repair it or manage it longer-term, and you lose your sense of time. The time warp can be draining, feeling like you aren't living but fixated through fear or necessity on dealing with a looming, constantly evolving problem. The best advice is, if you can, try to slow things down mentally. Allow yourself mental breaks from your worry, your anxiety, your troubles. Permit yourself time even to live. With many illnesses there's a little more time than what it feels like, and taking a deep breath and remembering that time just feels off, both compressed and interminable at the same time due to the nature of what you are experiencing, is key.
3. Fix what you can fix:
When you become a patient, it is imperative to ask yourself, how did I get here? You must do the research as to what drove you to this point, and then attempt to remedy it. Diet and nutrition, habits of stress, and bad exposures are all within your control to fix. We underestimate the amount of impact our daily, seemingly mundane choices have on our being, our inflammatory states, our health, our longevity. Once you've been presented with the problem, if you are able, do everything you can to address what got you there.
4. Don't lose faith, strengthen it:
It's interesting what illness does. For many patients, it can reveal faith to them. For others, it can rob them of faith. I would advocate trying to cultivate more faith. The miraculous does occur, and faith is a key ingredient to healing, which can happen on so many levels. Faith is believing in a higher power, and it can give hope like nothing else in life.
5. Seek compassion - from yourself, and others:
Illness is humbling, so do not be afraid to go after compassion. This means that you should be kind to yourself, forgive yourself for how you think you got here, love yourself fully in your journey. Seek compassionate people also. Know that not every person is capable of real compassion; it requires an emotionally evolved individual and not everyone is there. If a relationship isn't offering what it should, you are under no obligation to keep it. You are also under no obligation to explain everything to everyone, just because they know you. If you're the patient, you will need people who support you, who are not asking you to be the one expending energy to continue the relationship.
6. Manage what you can manage:
While you should seek to fix what you can fix, you may not be able to fix everything. Illness can be powerful in how it changes us. If not everything can be fixed, we should manage what we can. This often means bringing in palliative assistance, to manage the symptoms of illness so that we are living as well as we can, and getting as much quality out of our time as we can.
7. Illness can be a gift:
It's easy in anger to question this statement. But illness opens one's eyes. You are irrevocably changed by going through the passage of illness, and if you seek it, can be awoken in ways that the rest of us, not yet afflicted, cannot understand. The awakening can lead to a deepening of faith, an real understanding of the meaning of time and love, a desire to have authentic and balanced relationships, and to no longer suffer that which is insufferable around us. While illness isn't the gift we seek from God, it, and our associated mortality are the only things which really shake us to our core and wake us up if we embrace it.