If you or someone close is very ill, has Cancer, is dying or deceased and you feel stuck and in need of support then I hope this page will be of use to you.
Whether it’s yourself or a loved one who has been taken seriously ill, or someone close has died, often our first reaction is shock. Our world has been suddenly and profoundly changed. Life is no longer the safe and stable place we thought it was.
There can the very understandable, quick impetus to action, to doing something to try and make the situation better. Much of this is about coping with the practical demands of the situation and it can distract us from having to face the emotional reality of it all for a while. We all have the ability to ‘bracket’ our emotions in times of crisis. The journey of returning to living in the present again, is through attending to our feelings, allowing and processing them, which can take time, courage and patience.
Problems arise when we can’t do this. Especially when this ‘bracketing’ of our feelings is already a habit, then we can struggle with being overwhelmed by having to deal with yet more feelings we haven’t deal with. Or we simply bury everything even deeper and become harder and even more disconnected. With these patterns of avoidance there can often come the ‘symptoms’ of depression, anxiety, stress and various compulsions.
Also with illness there is the additional dreadful uncertainty. How serious is it? Perhaps I don’t need to face these feelings that I’d rather not face. “It might all be alright and there is no point getting upset unnecessarily”. This can lead to us continually avoiding the difficult feelings that lurk and nag at us from the ‘background’.
Lost in the Details
Another aspect of this is that all the details of dealing with the illness, its symptoms, the appointments, routines, drugs, etc. can be so consuming that the ‘inner self’, the person, gets forgotten or neglected. It becomes all about the illness. The danger with all these distractions is that we never manage to address the issues that it would be so helpful to resolve, either with ourselves or with our loved ones.
What approach to take?
By turning our attention towards facing what we have been avoiding we can start to live more fully again. Often counselling can make a real difference with this as it is hard to bring into awareness what we have pushed aside, hard to face the hurt, distress, grief, anger, or whatever it is that we’ve been avoiding. Counselling helps by supporting us to look deeper and to understand what we see.
Through allowing what we previously defended ourselves against and automatically avoided, we can re-open our hearts, re-connect with our bodies and our thinking can re-find some clarity. Part of this is about seeing through the inadequacies we feel that comes from all the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ we have absorbed about ourselves from our upbringing.
We don’t want to face death, especially not too early, yet it often gets left too late. Sometimes it’s as though we don’t want to tempt fate. We resist having conversations about death in case it doesn’t come, yet. But conversations about death are never “too soon”, they are about attending to what is most meaningful in our lives. There is always meaning in our suffering and talking gives us the chance to explore it, and to work on resolving what we can.
It is the holding of our feelings, our thoughts and our bodies out of awareness that blocks our sense of meaning. When we can allow whatever is going on in us to be seen, looked at, digested and understood, then meaning emerges naturally.
With many illnesses the process of treatment can be slow with lots of ups and downs. This leaves friends and family in a place of wanting to support but of not knowing how. But by encourage them into as real and meaningful conversations as possible all can participate in this journey into greater intimacy and shared meaning.
We can’t ‘do’ Change
We can’t change by willing it with our head alone. Developmental change is a process facilitated by life, by the whole of us, head, heart, body and our subconscious. We need all these parts of ourselves to be in agreement instead of being kept separate by our un-resolved difficulties. We are changed by integrating new awareness and then we notice we have changed.
Individual Counselling or Small Groups
I offer individual sessions or participation in small groups (if there are enough people interested at any one time, perhaps through a shared experience of a particular illness) to support this work of moving towards accepting the unacceptable.
A group can be a supportive and compassionate place where sharing helps. They can also be fun and lively places!