Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
I hear this question a lot from clients who have recently been diagnosed with a chronic condition. They aren’t necessarily asking this question of me, nor are they expecting me to try to answer it. We both know that it is an unanswerable question.
So why ask?
Human beings want to have control over our lives, to know what’s going to happen, to prevent anything we don’t want to happen. It’s the way we’re wired. So when we get slammed with something like an unexpected and unwanted diagnosis, it is normal to ask the “Why me?” question.
Looking for answers
My clients often want to talk about what they might have done to bring this upon themselves. They might wonder if something they did in the past is bringing punishment their way. As if they have somehow been singled out for some reason. They may point to “bad” lifestyle choices. They might wonder if this is all about a lesson they are supposed to be learning. These questions may lead to a discussion that resides more in the spiritual dimension.
It’s hard to grasp that life can be this random, that a chronic illness can just appear out of nowhere. And if there is a lesson here, a chronic condition sure teaches us that we aren’t in control.
What about you? When you received your diagnosis, did you take it in stride? Or did you ask, “Why me?”
Again, there is no answer to this question. But if clients want to ask it, then I welcome that discussion. And by the way, one thing that I have also experienced is that their loved ones and their doctors have often discouraged them from asking, “Why me?” And, “Why?” I think that the people around them feel helpless to answer. Who wants to feel helpless?
I don’t have an answer, either. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a talk about the “Why me?” question.
Asking, “Why me?” is normal and healthy. When individuals first hear of their diagnosis, they just feel numb. They are in a temporary state of shock as their mind wraps itself around the news. Not only do they not know what to think or feel, they may be in denial that having a chronic condition is even possible. But at some point, their mind springs the question: “Why me?” Am I surprised when newly diagnosed clients ask, “Why me?” No, I am surprised when they don’t.
“Why me?” is a first step. With this question, the process of coping emotionally with a new diagnosis begins. It can feel like a pretty rocky start, I know. Asking, “Why me?” can mean you are now on the path toward understanding and accepting your diagnosis. That’s because the first step is acknowledging that it happened to you.
The “Why me?” question is often followed by a flood of emotions. A sense of unfairness. Disappointment. Sadness. Anger. It’s human, and it’s important to let yourself feel how you feel. When you hold feelings in, they build up—become more powerful. Fighting your feelings is fighting yourself. Letting feelings out is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.
“Why me?” can lead to questions of a spiritual nature. Sure, the questions might include, “Why was this sent in my direction?” or, “Why was it allowed to happen?” This can lead you to important discussions about your spiritual beliefs that you haven’t had in the past because you have never been challenged to. In that way, “Why me?” can be an important stop along the path toward making a deeper commitment to your beliefs. And experiencing greater comfort and peace of mind.
If you’re asking, “Why me?” . . . find someone who is willing to consider the question along beside you. In other words, get support. Talk with someone who can listen without judging you or trying to tell you what to do. And especially, find someone who won’t insist that you shouldn’t be asking.
“Why me?” Go ahead and ask. The benefit is not in getting an answer, but in pondering the question. “Why me?” opens the door to coping with the emotions that a new diagnosis brings up and, further down the road, to acceptance. And when you accept your diagnosis, you’re ready to power up and take the best possible care of yourself.
How have your dealt with the “Why me?” question? Share your experiences and suggestions by adding a comment below.