What is this feeling?
October 12, 2022
When you find out that a loved one has a serious illness you are likely to find yourself feeling a whole range of emotions, some of which you might not have experienced before. To be able to deal with these emotions, it is first necessary to gain some understanding about what these emotions are and why you’re experiencing them. It’s also important to remember that all of these feelings are absolutely normal, but they can be debilitating if left without being dealt with!
You might feel like you are alone during this difficult time, or that you’re unable to talk about how you’re coping with those around you because they, too, are dealing with the impact of the illness. You might think that if you try to bring it up with your loved ones that you will make them feel sad, or that your feelings aren’t as important in comparison – however, it’s really helpful to be able to support each other during this time rather than everyone dealing with it separately. If you are able to, striking up a conversation with your loved ones can be really beneficial for both you and them.
Keeping your friends in the loop can be really useful, too; you may not want to ‘burden’ them with your thoughts but they can still provide you with support even if they don’t know exactly what you’re experiencing – a shoulder to cry on, someone to go out and do activities with, or just being available to talk to about things completely unrelated to what’s going on at home. It’s important to keep some normality in your life, even when it seems like everything has completely changed…
Be sure to surround yourself with people who are supportive of you during this difficult time. While the feeling of loneliness might make you feel like you need to be around as many people as possible, if they do not have a positive impact on your life, it will only make the feelings of being lonely seem even worse.
Feeling fearful and uncertain about what the future holds is completely natural. You might fear the result of tests, the prognosis, how you’re going to cope, how your loved one might change during the illness, and even what might happen if they die.
Talking to medical professionals treating your loved one can help to ease some of these fears as you’ll be able to ask the questions that you have, with answers more specific to their condition. Whoever it is in your family that has the illness probably has their own fears and worries too so, even thought it can seem hard, try talking things through with them and work together on what you’re struggling with.
If talking to a medical professional or your loved one isn’t an option, charities like Hope are there for you to offload your fears to – whatever they are – without judgement.
Feeling out of control
One of the hardest things to deal with is knowing you can’t change what is happening, which can make you feel powerless as well as scared – so try looking at what you can do. Could you schedule a time each week that you’ll ring your loved one, if you don’t live with them? Or what about planning a menu of meals you can help cook for the family if your loved one isn’t feeling well? Or sitting down with them and working out when their next appointments are, and how they’re going to get there?
None of this will change what’s happening with the illness, as much as we would like it to, but looking at practical things what we can control can make it a little easier to deal with the things that we can’t.
Anxiety and worry
Similarly to fear, you might experience anxiety and worry around a loved one’s illness. If you can’t be with them, you might be anxious about what is going on at home, or how your loved one and other family members are coping. It can be difficult to know whether you should move back closer to home or take some time off work or college/university to be with them. You might worry about the progression of their illness which can cause you to feel anxiety whenever the phone rings or you receive a text message – just in case it is bad news. Anxiety and worry can produce physical symptoms which might feel difficult to cope with, such as feeling like your tummy is in knots, feeling sick, your heart racing, or feeling dizzy or shaken.
These symptoms are completely normal but they can also feel a bit debilitating and overwhelming. Carrying out mindfulness techniques can be useful, or spending time with your friends or doing activities that you enjoy can help to ease the feelings. However, if these physical symptoms do become too much, you might want to talk to your GP who may be able to offer some suggestions to help.
Anger is completely normal in this situation, but it can also be a particularly difficult emotion to deal with. You might feel like you don’t deserve to be angry or that it isn’t your place to, but it’s okay to feel angry about the illness or that this is happening to you and your family. You might also feel frustrated that there is nothing you can do to make your loved one better, or that other people don’t seem to care that you’re going through this massive thing.
Activities like going for a long walk in the countryside, yoga or painting can help create a sense of calm, whereas higher intensity activities like boxing or going to the gym can help use up some energy. If you aren’t easily able to get up and about, something as simple as scribbling all over a blank page or yelling into the shower can be a quick release – these things might feel a bit silly or “dramatic”, but it’s important that these feelings that are building up are let out in a healthy way.
If you feel like you might be struggling to deal with the anger, or feel like it’s starting to overwhelm you, do seek support from a GP.
More than anything, it is key to keep all lines of communication open where possible and ensure that you are getting support for yourself. While you might feel like you shouldn’t be focusing on yourself given the situation, looking after yourself is just as important as looking after your loved one. You can’t be the best support for your loved one if you are struggling.