Dear Style & Substance,
I’ve been healthy most of my life and was recently diagnosed with having trouble navigating. I’ve shared it with a few people and had such mixed reactions and disturbing reactions that I feel like I should have kept it to myself. Could you talk about disclosure and support in these difficult circumstances?
It sounds like the support you requested wasn’t there for you and we’re sorry. Having been in good health all your life, now with a diagnosis and possible health problems, life is uncharted territory. You learn to adapt while your support people absorb and respond to this unexpected change. We have developed a few strategies that can be considered, rearranged, or set aside to bring insights to the deliverers and receivers of sensitive messages that require a deeply compassionate response.
CHECK YOURSELF: So what about you? How are YOU doing with this health change? A diagnosis pushes us to look at our lives differently; our past, present and future. It brings forth lingering emotions like fear and guilt. It can be used as a positive nudge to make the changes we can in order to live as healthily as possible. It is most important to question yourself, to become aware of what you are feeling and why, what your expectations were and are now, and perhaps how the information was passed on or unintentionally twisted by the listener.
PAUSE: During monumental (or even minimal) life changes and challenges, we always recommend pausing to reflect, reflect, and gain clarity about what your mind and body are telling you. When you rush to talk to others, you don’t have the time to thoroughly understand a diagnosis, treatment plan, or next steps. The pause is also a time to assess the risk of disclosure and to consider allowing people into your sacred circle. As you reset upcoming conversations, focus on three “whens”: share when you’re ready, when you’re feeling good, and when sharing serves a purpose. As you lead with these intentions, arrange your words of disclosure and how you receive the thoughts of those around you.
“Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes has less to do with the gait or the shoes; it’s about thinking how you think, feeling what you feel, and understanding why you are who and where you are. Every step is about empathy.” ~ Toni Sorenson
TEST THE WATER: When you don’t know how you’re feeling, sharing the words with a trusted friend can be as simple as that; an opportunity to clarify the what and why with the knowledge that the information will be considered with confidence and care. This one conversation can be rich in clues and words about how to share your diagnosis with adult children, friends, and extended family.
PAY ATTENTION TO TIMING: Unfortunately, timing is an important consideration when sharing this information. When you switch a conversation to something serious in the middle of a busy time or during a pleasant activity, the listener isn’t always willing to listen carefully or respond. Ask for a quiet time to speak, or ask the listener to come back at a later time. Everyone feels that they honor the other.
PLEASE PRIVACY: Consider and request discretion and confidentiality. News travels fast, making anonymity rare.
WHAT TO SHARE & WHAT TO KEEP: You don’t have to share everything or explain yourself too much; especially when others give you unwarranted advice about a direction you should take. So often the people closest to us want to solve problems to help us feel better and bring order to the unknown. When people underreact or overreact, our nice selves should interpret that as trying and guessing how you’re feeling and what you might need. It is clarifying to say how high your level of concern or concern is at this moment.
GOING FORWARD: When you share a profound problem with someone, they need some information about the situation itself AND how you’re feeling about it. Giving people indicators gives them information about how and when to respond. Making a big deal or a small deal is something that needs to be validated.
“One day in the summer Frog wasn’t feeling well. Toad said, “Frog, you look pretty green.” “But I always look green,” said Frog. ‘I am a frog.’ “Today you look very green even for a frog,” said Toad.” ~Frog and toad are friends, Arnold Lobel
Your family and friends are used to the fact that you are a strong, vital and healthy person. This adjustment will take time, patience, vulnerability, and humor—with a dash of deep honesty—to fully live with what a diagnosis can mean for your future.
Sally Meisenheimer and Michele Armani are the owners of style &substance, which offers life coaching and creative solutions. Meisenheimer and Armani are certified life coaches with many years of experience in health education, human resources development and teaching. Together they have been married for more than 60 years and have raised seven children. Email questions and comments to email@example.com.