A medical diagnosis is more than getting a kick in the gut. It can also feel like your soul is getting kicked around in the process. A client I’ll call Colleen said it like this:
Before I was diagnosed, I never thought about whether my life had any meaning or purpose. I was living my life day to day, and enjoying it. What was there to question? But when I received my diagnosis, it was like a switch got turned on and I started asking myself “What is life supposed to be all about if out of nowhere we can suddenly get sick?” And when I couldn’t come up with an answer to that question, I started asking the question in another way: “What is my life supposed to be about?” I started thinking about the meaning of life, and the existence of God, in ways that I had never imagined I would, or at least not until I got much older.
The diagnosis not only affects us emotionally, but it also shatters our image of who we are, or thought we were, at a much deeper level. The shock can force us to question everything we thought we believed. The world is predictable and safe. There is justice in the world. I have control. I am a good and moral person (and so therefore nothing bad will happen to me). And so when we are hit with a diagnosis, in addition to all of the shock and fear and anger, our core beliefs about the meaning of life can be shaken in ways that we never imagined, often for the first time.
We can run (Flight), we can deny (Freeze) or, like Colleen, or we can begin to ask these questions (Fight).