Support: Assessing Your Needs and Your Options

Think you might need some help? Not sure, or not sure where to start?

You may have been diagnosed with a condition that requires extensive treatment, like cancer, such that your daily life will be disrupted for weeks or months or even longer. Or your condition may require an intervention like surgery, followed by a period of rest and recovery. Your condition may be chronic, like diabetes or HIV, requiring ongoing attention to a medication regimen that may change periodically.

Regardless of your diagnosis, you most likely have some changes in your lifestyle – diet, exercise, and activities – that will require some minor or major readjustment on your part. Your diagnosis may have been delivered with a sense of urgency – with treatment beginning almost immediately – or you may have time to do more planning.

Ask Yourself: What Do I Need To Be At My Best?
Whatever the specific situation, I encourage my clients to look at outside support as a way to enhance strengths, not to highlight weaknesses. Your strengths are those aspects of yourself that you want and need to help you cope with the challenges of your medical diagnosis. Here are some areas to consider:

Most likely, you have been thinking about your condition in terms of physical limitations imposed by the effects of the illness itself, the treatment, the recovery, your appearance, and any ongoing limitations on your mobility.

Take an honest look at what you can expect, realistically, in terms of how you are feeling physically and what you may or may not be able to do. As difficult as it might be, especially if you are experiencing a Flight or Freeze reaction to your diagnosis, understanding the expectations will help you to understand where you will most likely be self-sufficient and where you may need to seek assistance.

You might need someone to help out with some housework, cook a few meals, help with the kids, give you a ride to the store or a doctor’s appointment, or you might find yourself needing some help in undertaking an exercise program.

Can someone help you feel a little better about your appearance? Can someone babysit or clean up for you while you rest? Can someone just sit with you for a few hours? Admit to yourself what it is your physical self needs, and if you don’t want to ask someone to do these things for free, consider hiring a housekeeper, a babysitter, or even a personal assistant.

Daily affairs
Daily affairs include tasks like managing your checkbook and paying bills, making decisions about household issues that might arise, or dealing with your insurance company. If you are in a relationship, your partner may be handling these concerns. If not, you may want to ask a friend or family member to back you up for awhile, to make sure important bills are paid on time, or other urgent matters addressed as needed, so that you can focus on feeling better. Could you hire someone to be your business manager, even for just a little while?

Your daily affairs may also include your job. Your health condition may not affect your ability to perform your job on a day-to-day basis, or it might mean taking an extensive leave of absence or going on a reduced schedule for awhile, along with additional adjustments when you do return. Your Human Resources Department, or your Employee Assistance Program, will be able to offer you assistance.

To be honest, if you are in a fast-paced career, a leave of absence, or a need to reduce your pace, may have a negative effect on your career. But this is the situation life has handed you right now, so forge ahead and protect your health first. You can’t climb the corporate ladder without your health.

Once you are finished with treatment, or have a better understanding of the kinds of lifestyle adjustments you are going to need to make, you may also decide to make a major career decision.

Most of us think of support in terms of getting help dealing with uncomfortable and unfamiliar emotions that may arise as a result of a diagnosis. While we’ve discussed the emotional dimension of support throughout the chapter, I can’t overstate this simple truth: You don’t have to go through this alone.

Reach out to a friend or family member, a counselor, or a support group—wherever you feel most comfortable. If you know someone you can talk to, give them a call. If you belong to a church or synagogue, your minister, priest, or rabbi may be available, or there may be a counselor on staff. And if you want to talk to an objective outsider, you can get a referral from an organization that focuses on your condition, such as the American Cancer Society or the American Diabetes Association.

Chances are, you have self-help groups in your community that are focused on helping people dealing with illness. Or call up a counselor. We are here to help you.

The word “spiritual” is a very broad term. It may include developing closer connections with loved ones and it may include involvement in a church, synagogue, or other religious organization, or some combination of both. It might involve reading books with spiritual content, or simply sitting in silent meditation.

Clients often want to look for ways to develop spiritual connections when they are diagnosed with a medical condition, or they look for ways to reconnect with a spiritual life that they had in the past but have grown away from.

Illness can make you see things in new ways, in a broader, more universal sense – music may sound more beautiful, for example, or being with a loved one can seem more important than ever before. It can make trivial things apparent and bring into high relief what really matters to you, in your life, right now.

Not only are local religious institutions available to you, but also consider ecumenical spiritual centers and meditation or yoga classes. Even your local Y will most likely offer a meditation or yoga class.

Take a look inside yourself and around you, and think about what you need, and where you might reach out to have your needs met. Don’t go through this alone – save your strength for where you need it most!