Facing the fear factor.

Dr Gary
By Dr GaryCA Latest Reply 2011-06-07 15:44:31 -0500
Started 2011-06-06 14:59:00 -0500

It is part of life to have times when we feel afraid. The uncertainties in life can leave us feeling out of control, at the mercy of forces that we can’t understand or predict. On the other hand, the certainties of life – the things we know we are going to have to face and wish we didn’t have to, can also be scary.

Facing a chronic condition presents all kinds of certainties and uncertainties. Each day can be different than the day before, in terms of how you feel, what you have to pay attention to, what you have to change in your routine, and that can mean new uncertainties, new opportunities, and new questions.

The uncertainties and the certainties of a medical diagnosis all result in changes to our daily routine. It’s human nature to view having to make a change as losing something – activities, routines, what others can expect from us and what we can expect from them – and that makes having to make changes especially scary. Uncertainty about the future, as well as wanting to avoid things that are certain but you wish they weren’t, like medication regimens, can leave you feeling pretty scared. It’s normal to ask yourself: What’s next? What else am I going to have to deal with?

Here are some ideas to think about to help you to deal with your own fear factor.

Define the fear. What is the worst case scenario? Fear can be kind of a vague feeling that follows you around like a dark cloud. I am not suggesting that you should think of ways to scare yourself. However, if you don’t define what it is you are actually afraid of, then chances are the cloud will continue to hover around you. Give your fear a definition by asking yourself, just exactly what is it that I am afraid of? When you know what it is, then you are in a better chance to do something about it, beginning with getting the right information.

Ask yourself: How real is my fear? The way the human brain works is that without real information, our minds fill in the gaps. But unfortunately, the gaps may be filled with scary thoughts and misinformation that is generated by your fear. In this way, you can end up working against yourself as your fear increases. Once you have defined what it is that you are really afraid of, ask yourself how realistic your fear is. Is this the only possible outcome? Are there other possibilities as well? Am I looking at this as an either-or and not considering the options?

And if you aren’t sure, get some answers. To understand how real your fears are, get some real information. Talk to your healthcare team, let them know your fears. Ask for some answers. In other words, get the facts. You may have to do some digging, maybe talk to more than one expert. At least make sure that you have as clear a view as possible of what you’re up against. When you have real information, then you are in a better position to determine what your options are, and take action.

While you’re at it, drown the fear in facts. Move at your own pace, don’t overload yourself. But decide to become an expert on your own situation. Get educated. Keep records of your treatment, symptoms, experiences, and maintain a list of questions to ask your healthcare team. And know your options in terms of what you can do take the best possible care of yourself, now and on the road ahead.

Ask yourself: How have I faced down challenges in the past? Do your own assessment of the coping strategies that have worked for you in the past. What are your strengths? Think about what you did to get through a time of fear and uncertainty, what you did to stay calm, what you told yourself to counteract the fear, the actions that you took, and who helped you get through it. Most likely, you have a lot of your own resources that you can draw upon.

Gather your support team together. Who do you have in your corner? One of the best ways to deal with fear is by having a safe place to talk about it. Is there someone you can sit with and talk about your fears, who can be a good listening ear, who can listen without judging you or telling you what to do? Make sure you have supportive people in your life who can partner with you on this journey.

Focus on the present, not the future. Take small steps. Try to move your focus away from the “what if?” and toward the “what now?” Do you what you need to do get through each day, focusing on your self-care, getting support, working closely with your healthcare team, basically handling the small stuff, one step at a time. The day to day is what you do have some control over. The “what if?” will become clearer over time.

Don’t give in to the positive thinking police. It’s okay to be scared… angry, frustrated… It’s normal to have a lot of different feelings when you are coping with a medical diagnosis. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should “think positive” and stop feeling how you feel. That’s just denial. Feelings are feelings, so don’t keep them inside. You will most likely find that, once you have let some of the feelings out, your mind is clearer to focus on that next step, as well as to listen and process information.

Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. You can’t control everything. I know I told you that earlier on. But it bears repeating on those days when you fear ganging up on you again. Give yourself a pep talk. You are in a challenging situation, you don’t have the answers you need, at least not yet, and you don’t have a crystal ball. So go easy on yourself. You are doing everything you can right now in a situation that is out of your control, and that’s the most you can ask of yourself.

Ask for help in getting to your new normal. Change is scary. It’s not fair. And a chronic condition inevitably means change, sometimes lots of changes, anywhere from slight modifications to turning your daily life upside down. Talk with other patients and get ideas about the best way to cope, learn what you can from their experiences, consider advice that makes sense for you, let them know what you’re going through. Being on the journey with people who really know how hard the road is can make a lot of difference.

Reach out for a spiritual connection. A medical diagnosis lead to a spiritual awakening. What is your personal definition of spirituality? This may be a time to reconnect with religious or spiritual practices from your past, or to develop new ones. Having a sense of the meaning of it all, and a connection to something great than your day to day experiences, can be a great antidote for fear.

Build some enjoyment into your life. What makes you happy? How do you relax? Don’t forget to enjoy what relaxes you and makes you happy. Being with family and friends. Getting outside. Listening to music. Don’t let the fear deprive you of finding some joy in your life.

Have a strategy in place. As much as possible, be clear with yourself on how you want to live your life. Your strategy might take into account day-to-day self-care, communicating with your healthcare team, finances, emotional and practical support, up-to-date information, spirituality, and any other aspects of your life that you want to build into your plan. Having a strategy in place for your life helps to balance the uncertainty of the future with a measure of certainty for today. Again, one step at a time… a good strategy evolves over time, based on trial and error, experience, and taking that step back to make adjustments as needed.

How do you face the fear factor? I have tossed out a few ideas. It would be great to hear some of yours!

8 replies

Graylin Bee
Graylin Bee 2011-06-07 03:53:35 -0500 Report

Last year was the start of my Face the Fear marathon. Being hit with back to back to back bad medical news had me in way over my head in each case. Luckily my husband, sisters, mom, nieces, and some dear friends rallied around me. Without their support and prayers it would have been so much harder. Wonderful Drs., nurses and other medical staff also were vital.
No one was able to remove all the fears. But piece by piece knowledge of what I was dealing with came to me. Some fears melted away. Some are still very real. Today I know so much more about each problem. I am better equiped to find answers to what is unknown.
I am learning what the new normal is. On the day the last surgeon released me to resume my "usual life" I remember feeling hopelessly lost. My old usual life had been destroyed, my job was gone, my home was in foreclosure, it seemed the old me was gone. My daily life had indeed been turned upside down.
Day to day victories are to be celebrated. My fasting BGs are good most days. I don't need to use a walker or cane anymore. I have my legs. I got a job. I am alive. Those facts keep me going the days I don't feel to good, or start to miss what I have lost.
Another lesson learned is what I went through has helped me in my job. Helping someone who is facing death is a little more understandable to me now. I was in their position just recently. I was always a little afraid I wasn't helping my residents with their fears. I learned how important someone just being near to listen on a long sleepless night really is.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2011-06-07 15:44:31 -0500 Report


Always great to hear from you.

This is incredibly inspiring and I hope it attracts lots of eyes. As you said so well, having knowledge is power. When you know what you are dealing with, then you can also make better decisions about what to do about it.

You are the expert on finding your new normal. It begins with deciding to live life on life's terms, accepting what is and, based on that, deciding what can be. And look at the success you have achieved! And what you have to offer others, including your friends on Diabetic Connect, including me!

Just bieng there for someone, being a listener, can also promote healing.

Thanks a lot for the inspiration!


realsis77 2011-06-06 15:38:47 -0500 Report

Thanks dr for another good post! I'm not sure if this is healthy, but I will be honest with you. I try not to think of the complcations. Although they are ever present in my mind. I just lost a good friend to diabetes. Just seen him a week before he died. He went partially blind, lost a leg, and was on dialasis for kidneys. He couldn't see to give himself the shots and his care giver left for a weekend. He was supposed to get his shots from another care giver and they missed his dose. He passed away. Yes the complacations are very real and very scarey. I can't believe I have the same diaease that killed him…but still I try to stay positive and not dewell on the fear. If I did I think id curl up in a ball! I try to live life to my fullest and take my meds (insulins) on time.I hope and pray I won't have to face the complcations! If I do I will take it from there. I've survived coma, life support, lung disease ,and hopefully I will survive diabetes.the. fear is really ever present I just try and burry it.. is that wrong?? What's your opnion??

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2011-06-06 16:58:01 -0500 Report


Thanks for checking in. I haven't run into you in awhile. Great to see you.

I think you bring up a really good poiint. You don't have to dwell on the worst possible outcome. What's important is to take the best possible care of yourself.

Sounds like you are doing that.

Wlw, you have been through a lot. You must have learned a lot of coping skills along the way.

A positive attitude and lots of good self-care are a powerful combination.

Thanks again and stay in touch!


realsis77 2011-06-06 19:10:52 -0500 Report

Thanks for replying Dr Gary! I haven't left I've just had nothing to post about lately. I've been here in the shadows answering posts :). I always enjoy your posts. Yes Dr I've been through more than my fair share of stuff and still go on. If you were to speak to me after the coma id have been different. I went through a wide range of emotions. The coma was caused by the doctors. I got my uterus nicked during a c section and burst open. I told them something was wrong and they left me in recovery to die. Literally… I d.I.c. disceminated inter vascular coagulation from hemmorage. So yeah I've learned some coping skills. Still makes me mad to think of it!

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2011-06-07 15:24:15 -0500 Report

Oh my gosh! Incredible. This is not the first time that I have heard stories about plain old lack of care and concern for the patient. We really have to be our own best advocates. Sounds like you learned some of your coping skills the hard way.

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