When someone gets an illness or condition that is life changing, then loss and denial can be prominent. I hear this a lot when I work with clients but I have also experienced this personally several years ago when my grandad developed Parkinson’s Disease.
Living with a life changing illness doesn’t just mean having to accept the symptoms of that condition – there is so much more. For the person living with the condition, and for those close to them, it is about loss; loss of who the person was. They may be unable to continue the job they did. They may be unable to carry out tasks around the home the same. They may require someone to even do personal tasks for them like washing and dressing and going to the toilet. These are just a few of the changes, but can result in the person feeling loss of role, loss of purpose, loss of independence and loss of dignity. All this challenges a person’s sense of self and how they have always seen themselves. It effects their very identity.
This is where, in my experience, denial can come in. People can rally against the idea that they need to make changes or that they need help to do things they always used to do. This can be difficult for the person with the condition and frustrating or hard for the relative who is seeing the person they love struggling and changing in front of them.
My grandad had always been a big part of the community he lived in. He was the one people called on to mend things; he could turn his hand to anything. He was the one we all went to in the family. He was central, the linchpin. He also used to volunteer at a day group for the elderly. I remember the fierce personal struggle he went through with his declining health. To change from being the helper to the one being helped was something, understandably, he found very hard. That balance between accepting things that would make life easier, but wanting to retain that sense of self and independence, always felt an impossible task.
Counselling can give people the chance to explore feelings of loss, denial, fear, change and look at who they are now. Sometimes there is an expectation to always stay positive, which can be tiring in itself. Counselling allows the person the chance to just be. It can be a good place for the person with the condition and/or for relatives to have a chance to look and express feelings without the worry of how it will impact on those around them.
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