How To Handle a Personal Health Crisis (And Not Lose Your Mind)

finding inner strength

photo by s-a-m

The following article is a guest post by Amy B. Scher of Amy speaks from experience and has quite a story that she tells at her blog. Thank you, Amy, for sharing these valuable tips with us!

Your doctor is staring at you telling you your whole life is about to change, and all you can think is, “When can I get this gown off and get out of here?” Worse, you don’t like this guy anyway and now you have to pay him for giving you maybe the worst news ever. Where do you go from here? What do you tell your family? How will you get through this?

Here are some survival tips that helped me and I’m sharing them in hopes they’ll help you too. Put them to use as your personal road map. You can survive. You will. And you might even discover things on the journey you wouldn’t trade for anything. Yes, really.

Find a great doctor (even if it’s not the one you have now)
This is an important one. Your Aunt Bessy swears her doctor is the best. Your insurance is giving you a list of people who they want you to trust. But, this is one thing only YOU can dictate. Aunt Bessy may like Dr. Smith because he’s “nice,” but when you are sick, nice just isn’t good enough. In fact, take it from an expert. Bedside manner hardly even registers on the importance scale when you are seriously ill. I say, let ’em have just enough personality skills to get by, but know their medical stuff like the back of their hand. After all, you are not paying for “nice.” Here are some ultra-important clues in your hunt for an MD.

  • A doctor who is willing to listen. He/she needs to look at your more than their watch.
  • A doctor who encourages a second opinion (even the good guys make mistakes). When you go for a second opinion, bring your diagnostic testing like blood work, etc., but don’t tell the new doctor what your first doctor thought was going on. Explain how you are there for a fresh set of eyes.
  • Ask around — but get details on why someone has given you a recommendation. If your friend is going to their doctor because she has been for years, that’s not a good enough reason.
  • Forget insurance (if you can afford the thought). If you are sick (and I mean more than a cold), you don’t want to be at the mercy of your insurance if it doesn’t allow you the freedom to go to the very best. It’s ridiculous to refuse to pay out of pocket if you can afford it, just because you don’t want to. Your ego is nothing compared to your health. If you have to lose one, you know which one to choose.
  • Look for someone willing to think outside the box. A doctor who considers that some people don’t fit the typical bill, will help you get much further in your quest for wellness. You’ll be able to tell by the questions they ask, or if they even ask (about your diet, family history, environmental hazards you’ve been exposed to, etc.). A doctor who integrates both eastern and western medicine may also be more apt to think in terms of something that may not be obvious.
  • Be wary of any doctor blaming emotions for all physical illness. Of course, it can play a part. But, any doctor that is really quick to jump to accusations that you are too stressed, too sleep deprived, etc. should be given a second thought.
  • See a specialist. If you have neurological problems, see a neurologist. Are you having major stomach problems? You need a gastroenterologist. Don’t rely solely on your family doctor. They just can’t know it all to the extent you might need them to.

How to make the most of your appointments
The clock is ticking and you have to beat your doctor to the finish (or “ok, we’re out of time”) line. What can you do to make your appointments go more smoothly, all while accurately conveying your questions and concerns?

  • Make a list of all your questions and all medications you need to have refilled (and don’t forget it at home!)
  • Be persistent to get each question answered before you move on.
  • Ask clear and concise questions. Don’t confuse the doctor or waste time by giving unnecessary information.
  • Have an idea of what YOU want before you ask opinions (give two options). If you have been considered a better eating plan, but don’t know where to start, don’t rely completely on your doctor and ask too much of an open ended question. Do your own research and then narrow down options to have him/her help you decide. For instance, don’t say: I’m thinking of a new diet. What do you recommend? It’s obvious that you have some idea of what would work for you. Instead, say: I’m going to start eating differently. Do you think being vegetarian or low-carb would be more beneficial to me?

How to not go crazy
There is a mighty fine line between research and obsession. Ride it carefully. It’s understandable and oh-so-smart that you want to know the ins and outs of testing, diagnosis and treatment. However, part of physical health is mental health. Finding a doctor you can trust will help alleviate some of the pressure you may feel to diagnose and self-treat. After suffering with a disease that most doctors were oblivious to, I had to find a balance. I learned to relinquish some control (ouch, it still hurts) and let my intuition guide sometimes instead of my brain.

  • Talk to people a little further down the line than you (they will often be able to give you really great information that they learned from when they first went through this).
  • Don’t get into a complaining circle. You will want to share frustrations and other feelings with others, but make sure it has a purpose. Simply complaining is a waste of energy that you could use for something more positive.
  • Don’t be glued to the internet once you’ve found out what you need. Type it up for future reference so you don’t have to keep visiting sites/forums. This can be a trap. Make a cheat sheet for yourself so that when you do need information, you don’t accidentally get sucked into spending hours and hours trying to find the useful advice you’ve already read. The goal is to focus on health more than the disease.

How to approach your family and friends
Your loved ones are going to be the ones there for you when you need it most. But, they can often be frustrating in their quest to help. Here are a couple of guidelines to make sure they don’t feel left out, and don’t make your life harder than it has to be.

  • Know how you want them to participate (or not). It will help alleviate a lot of anxiety and stress if you clearly express to your friends and family what you need. They are going to want to do something, so give them ideas on how they can help in ways that you can live with, even if that’s leaving you alone until you are ready to talk. Feeling like they are fulfilling a need of yours will give them a place in this situation.
  • Give them good, solid information. Expect that your friends and family will be worried and know that going to the Internet to research could go either way. It could make them panic more, or settle them down. Be ready to give them facts about what’s going on so they don’t come up with inaccurate conclusions themselves.
  • Give people a break. Nothing anyone says will make you feel better, but know they are trying. (To read more, and possibly have a good laugh, see my article Ten Things That Won’t Make It Better).

How to handle scary emotions
You are going to be scared, angry, confused, depressed and the list goes on…..and you might be them all at the same time. The worst thing to do is judge yourself for your feelings (I should be stronger than this, I can’t believe I’m so upset, etc.).

  • Talk to someone who can help you sort out these emotions, or buy a book that gives you some sense of understanding about what you are going through.
  • Give yourself time. Don’t expect to figure out everything over night. Be kind to yourself. Rest more, eat a little better and help yourself any way you can.
  • Never disregard a new idea or alternative that might work for you. There are so many things out there that doctors don’t know of, so if you think of or hear about something that might be worth a try, arm yourself with information. Being empowered will make things seem so much less scary.
  • Try to be as positive as you can (ah, so much easier said than done). I am living proof this works. I’m blessed to be an eternal optimist by nature (which can be utterly annoying), but I know it’s a huge part of what has gotten me through living (and even happily) with a chronic illness, especially at such a young age.

Now that you have a few ideas from a patient pro, I bet you can come up with some of your own. These were tried and true for me. My motto is: If life kicks your ass, kick back. Borrow it if you wish and forge ahead. I promise, if you are looking at it just right, you’ll never see things the same way again. And one day when someone you know needs a road map, you’ll have it ready and waiting — proof you found your way no matter how hard it seemed at the time.

Amy B. Scher is an author, and self-made expert at navigating the medical system. She recently returned from India where she received a stem cell transplant that has allowed her to enhance her life, and help others in ways she never could before. Please visit her blog for more information:

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