Being diagnosed with an illness, whatever type it may be, always comes as a shock. And naturally, the more serious the illness the greater the shock. But it is possible for shock to be transformed into equanimity.
While everyone experiences illness in different ways, there are reactions to receiving a diagnosis that we all seem to have in common. Emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, and pain are all part of the process of getting to grips with a new way of life. And we all seem to experience these emotions in varying degrees as we’re forced to overcome, live with, or surrender to illness.
But as far as I’ve discovered in life, we’re never really overwhelmed by an emotion for no reason (no matter the strength of that feeling). Consider the following explanations.
- Fear helps us fast track to a safe solution in a potentially dangerous situation.
- Anger can act as a warning bell that something is wrong, and can motivate us to stand up for ourselves or someone we love.
- Sadness helps us to slow down, and signals to those around us that we need support.
- Pain is seen as nature’s unpleasant but crucial way of warning us of danger – it stops us repeating an action that causes pain.
A phoenix of hope
There are characteristics that these emotions have in common. There’s clarity, strength, purpose, and love (such as the love of life – fighting to hold on to what we know or what we want to defend).
Sometimes, out of a maelstrom of confusion following a diagnosis, a phoenix of hope can arise.
I recently spent time with a friend who has cancer. This beautiful human being is the epitome of hope and clarity.
There was no hiding that my friend had been crushed by his initial diagnosis, and he admits he’s still on one crazy rollercoaster ride. But at the same time that he deals with the shock of having cancer, he seems also to have extracted the extremes of his emotions and focused them on the beauty of life.
My friend has taken hold of the clarity, strength, purpose, and love that were brought to him through this crisis. He’s then redirected these feelings, and in doing so become far more conscious of the joy of human goodness, the overwhelming comfort of love, the breathtaking beauty of this world.
Turning shock into equanimity
As a thunder storm gives way to clear skies, so too can illness bring peace and equanimity.
Receiving a medical diagnosis can inadvertently help us to carve away some of the more banal aspects of daily life. It can help us identify what’s most important to us. It can even give us the mental space to focus more intently on the beauty of our existence.