RESILIENCE IN THE FACE OF ILLNESS – Dr. Nelia Drenth

Nobody wants to be ill but for most of us it is something that we will be faced with sometime during our lifespan.

Illness has a way of interrupting our lives and throw us in the deep end of the dam, leaving us struggling and afraid of dying or being dependant on others. The worst of it all, is to feel so
isolated and lonely when those around us do not understand what you are experiencing.

Let me explain what happens in our worlds when we become ill. This diagram shows our priorities when we are healthy. The size of the blocks indicates how much time we tend to spend on each category when we are healthy. You can also add more block or draw your own diagram to see what your personal world looks like.

And then disaster strikes and we become ill. Our world changes dramatically. Where work was our priority during times of health, it is now our health that becomes the priority. We are also challenged by existential questions such as “why did it happen to me?” This again leads to a bigger spirituality “box”. But, your family’s diagram does not change the same as yours and now we have two different worldviews – the family’s and that of the ill person.

And because there are changes, there are many questions and misunderstandings. But there are also love and understanding.

And most of all, resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back to life when something negative happens in your life.

And then, sadly, sometimes your health deteriorates to such an extent that you are facing death. This is what then tends to become the priorities in your life:

This diagram compared to that of your family will differ tremendously, but creates opportunities for you to start sharing concerns and challenges, and most importantly, to share the good times, your achievements and what you would llike your family to remember about you. Dr Ira Byock says that there are four imprtant things to say at the end of life:

  • Please forgive me (I’m sorry)
  • I forgive you
  • It’s OK to die
  • Goodbye

My advise is not to run away when all of this happens, but tackle it head on and live life to the end, with the help of family, friends, and professionals who care.

Dr Nelia Drenth
Social worker (Centre for loss, grief and bereavement)

Tips : How to manage your grief

You may experience headaches and stomach pains, you will burst into tears at the most inappropriate moments, you may want to isolate yourself and will hate yourself for being so forgetful. You may turn to food for comfort or have no appetite.

  • Be kind to yourself;
  • Acknowledge your pain. Allow yourself to grieve.
  • Speak to someone you trust, or keep a diary.
  • Draw, listen to music, drink tea in the garden, go for a walk.
  • After a while, reach out to others who are in need.
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