Serious illness: accepting the diagnosis and continuing to live

A doctor examines a patient with his own hands.

When a serious illness comes to shake up our life or that of someone we love, we have no choice but to accept it and to be combative in adversity. Georges Ganguillem, a philosopher and doctor, said of the disease that she is an “existential ordeal”. And the test is what Gustave-Nicolas Fischer, a psychologist specializing in health psychology, calls “an evil which one undergoes and which one must fight at the same time; It is the experience of threatened life. The test is the way to live his misfortune. »

When a serious illness comes to touch us closely we enter into another dimension of life. It puts our beliefs of invulnerability to harm. It plunges us into insecurity and anxiety. It forces us to live with a sense of vulnerability and fragility. It changes our relationships with others and over time. It tests our endurance ability.

The serious illness is like a sword of Damocles above our head.

“As if a very big wave had smashed my train and plunged me into a disassembled sea. I am obliged to ask myself essential questions, to make radical revisions, to explore “Virgin” territories, while fighting to keep my head out of the water,

says David Servan-Schreiber (suffering from cancer and died eight weeks After writing his book) in one can say goodbye several times.

When you’re sick, priorities change too. There is a risk of death and degradation of the body. Sometimes there are mournings to do: work, projects, autonomy. “One realizes brutally that his life, the one that was ours so far, is somehow lost. It imposes another way of life which is no longer the master. It requires a new learning of existence, often painful and uncertain, explains Gustave-Nicolas Fischer in cancer psychology/another look at disease and healing.

Whether we are the sick person or the life of someone we love who is threatened (even if in the second case life is not as directly threatened), the two will go through close emotions. Both will be beset by doubts and interrogations. But after the shock of the diagnosis, it will be necessary to learn to live with the ordeal.

The first thing to do without a doubt when faced with an incomprehensible and painful situation is to take a step back. We can certainly ask what we have done to deserve this and find that it is unfair, but when it is a reality that cannot be changed, we have to do something else. “The more you hurt, the more you try (and the more you need) to find a sense of pain. Thus, to seek meaning, it is to try to give direction to our suffering (whatever it is) to allow it to flow and to evacuate, because, without the possibility of giving meaning, one is exposed to the risk of being overwhelmed by this same pain, “says Christophe Fauré in his book living together the illness of a loved one.

So when the events of our life have no meaning, they will take the one we choose to give them. Somewhere, the objective reality of the disease is no longer as important as the way we live it. Gustave-Nicholas Fischer talks about accepting the unacceptable. “This way of acting now depends on the patient: it is not to change the reality, it is to transform its relationship to it by acting psychologically on oneself. It is the most difficult attitude, but basically the only one full of accuracy, because it shows the only real choice possible in the face of inevitable events: to take her life in hand with what she has unacceptable.

For David Schreiber, focusing on action is the best safeguard against despair. It is a matter of recognizing first that the situation is emotionally very harsh and to regain power over oneself. For this man, doctor and researcher in neuroscience who fought to the end against cancer in the brain, for 19 years, even if the game is never won in advance, it is the duty to put all the assets in his game.

For there are actions that can contribute objectively both in longevity and quality of life “to the improvement of the patient, to the efficacy of the treatments, to the mitigation of their side effects, to the lengthening of the periods of remission and to the decrease risk of relapse “. On the eve of his death, he wrote in his book, the pride of staying true to his values: to demonstrate a combative spirit, an optimistic attitude, to adopt so-called active strategies. In the face of the sick one can always as much as possible Act psychically on its life. “An optimistic mind helps to live if not directly heal.”

That said, David Schreiber knew, and we all know, never to lose his humility in the face of sickness. And when death comes, “it is a well-known psychological truth: when we lose a loved one, a beloved person, something that they have brought to us continues to live in us and inspire us. Our dead live in our hearts. This is the most consoling form of “immortality” and the one I care about most, writes David Schreiber.

How to help a seriously ill loved one?

How to support and accompany a person close to us who is seriously ill? Christophe Fauré ‘s book living together the illness of a loved one addresses different aspects of the issue. Selected extracts.

Be careful to do too much, in order to do well. One might, for example, become too interventionist; We want to have a look at all the facts and gestures of the patient: his diet, his hygiene of life, his resting times, his hobbies, etc. We are so anxious that we become rigid! With the risk of quickly creating an unbearable psychological pressure. It is about finding the right balance.

Beware of the danger of fusion (forgetting to differentiate between oneself and the other) and that you lose the indispensable distance between you and the sick person. It is this distance that allows you to do what is necessary for it. It represents a real safety for the patient, because you guarantee him the lucidity and objectivity of an outward look: he is reassured by your calm presence, when he himself is beset by despair and anguish. In the merger, he and you are plagued by the same emotions, in a closed situation on herself psychologically, without the possibility of reciprocal help or support.

Be careful to reassure too quickly. He says “I’m tired” and you tend to tell him it’s normal. But maybe he’s trying to express something else. To want to reassure constantly, too quickly, one obstructing the other who tells us about his anguish, his apprehensions or his doubts.

Be careful to moralize too fast. You blame him for not acting, not to take enough on him. But his reality is different from ours. We are in good health, in full possession of our means, and lack of elements to judge his behavior… That is not to say that we should not put limits and accept everything from the sick.

Our communication is based on our ability to recognize and embrace all of our emotions.

With questions like “what do you feel?”, “what is the hardest thing to live for you?”, “what’s hurting you?” or “what makes you so angry?”, one manages, little by little, to open a time of words in which is created at the same time a space of safety and rest.

You cannot help others effectively if you do not take care of yourself first. It is true that within a short distance, it is possible to put oneself “between Brackets” in order to focus its attention on the patient, but if this aid is part of the duration, one realizes very quickly that the oblivion of oneself is an insidious trap. Taking care of oneself means taking care of your body, its sleep, its diet. It is learning to recognize your own emotions (anger, resentment, guilt, fear).