The Cancer Shadow
When your loved one has cancer, you often feel stuck. It completely disrupts your life and your plans for the future. Treating this disease is frequently a long process and over time, it’s more and more difficult to “stay positive.” It can feel like this purgatory that you’re in will never end. Even with family support and good friends who you can share your mental burdens with, it’s difficult. You become emotionally exhausted, often full of anxiety, and just don’t have the energy to do anything more than take it one day at a time, waiting for the day that it will all be over.
This is where most of my clients are when they start coaching with me. They feel stuck and unable to see outside the shadow that cancer has cast over their family life.
What I want to share with all of you out there who are in this situation is that you don’t have to stay in this shadow. Feeling stuck isn’t the only option. There is a path out of this, and it has everything to do with you and nothing to do with your partner’s cancer.
There are three steps I teach my clients to feel better and get out of the cancer purgatory they feel like they are in.
- Identify areas where you are adding suffering to your pain
- Work on releasing that unnecessary suffering
- Build your resiliency skills
I like to compare this process to that resolution all of us have had at some point… the goal to get healthier. The process of building emotional resilience and feeling better in the midst of cancer is very similar.
Why Should You Do This Work?
Just like any goal, it does take effort. If you make the effort, you will feel better no matter what happens with your partner’s cancer. Emotional resilience is like a muscle and by building it you become stronger and able to face any challenge that comes your way. This will translate to what you’re going through right now as a caregiver, but also to any future challenge in your life.
The Three Step Process
I’m going to describe the three steps toward building emotional resiliency and feeling better using the analogy of “getting healthier” that most of us can relate to.
The first step once you decide to get healthy is to figure out all your unhealthy habits. This requires that you take a look at what you’re doing in all areas of your life and see if it is healthy or not. To do this, you have to become aware of your current habits. Once you start taking a closer look, it turns out there are a lot of small things that you are doing that if you just eliminate, you’d be healthier.
In building emotional resilience, you need to do the same thing. You have to become aware of all the ways you are creating unnecessary stress and suffering with your thinking. Most of us create our own misery with how we think. We do this unconsciously. It’s just how our brain works. It’s like we are poking a bruise. The bruise already hurts, but when we poke it, it hurts even more. That is what we are doing with a lot of our thinking. So first, we have to take a look and see where we are poking a bruise. (I’ve written a lot about how we do this, so if you want to read more check out some of these posts: Cancer As A Circumstance, Caregiving & Negative Thoughts, 3 Steps To Feeling Better When Your Partner Has Cancer. )
In our “get healthy” analogy, the next step is to start getting rid of the unhealthy habits you’ve identified. You stop snacking late at night. You resist reaching for that glass of wine or a bag of chips after a stressful day. You stop surfing on your phone until late at night. This step is a process. Many of your habits are ingrained and will take work to stop doing. It takes time and effort. In this step, you will also start feeling better physically, which keeps you going.
In building emotional resilience, you do the same thing. Once you’ve identified the thoughts that are not serving you, you start the work of letting them go. This takes effort. Many of these thoughts you’ve had for a long time and letting go of them can be difficult. It’s work worth doing. When you do, it lightens your emotional load and immediately you start feeling better. You’re also developing the skill of noticing when your brain offers up unhelpful thoughts and can stop the process before those thoughts take hold. You are in the process of becoming aware of your old habits and starting to change them.
Once you’ve identified your unhealthy habits and are ridding them from your daily life, now you are ready to include new healthier habits. You start incorporating better foods into your meals. You begin an exercise plan. You work on closing your eyes for 5 minutes after a stressful day. You make an effort to get more sleep. Now you are really starting to see a difference. You look better, you feel better. You are building new skills for a healthy lifestyle.
When building emotional resilience, we also have to build new healthier skills. We have to learn to recognize our thinking, process our emotions, build a loving relationship with ourselves, and learn to accept others. These are the skills that make us stronger. The more we practice, the better we get. We are feeling better, calmer, more in control. The emotions, the decisions, the uncertainty no longer overwhelms and exhausts us. We have the skills to cope, which allows us to be present for the beautiful moments we would have missed. Nothing has changed about our situation, but we have changed.
Is The Effort Worth It?
I know what you are thinking.
This sounds like a lot of work. I don’t have the time or energy. I’m barely getting by as it is.
I know how that feels. I felt the same way. Finally, I became so miserable that something had to change. You don’t have to get to the point of desperation. The reason you don’t have the energy is because you are using so much of it just to cope day to day. Not having the awareness and skills to handle all the emotions that come at you, the constant decision making, the uncertainty IS what drains your energy.
The Present You AND The Future You
We don’t often think about taking care of our future self, but she is the one who will benefit or suffer from the actions you take today. By building your emotional resiliency, you are not only taking care of your present self, but also setting your future self up for success. Without these skills, many caregivers experience depression, burn out, resentment, and guilt. Many get on the other side and are completely depleted and a shell of their former selves. Emotional resilient people do not collapse in the face of adversity, but rather grow and evolve from it. On the other side of their challenge, they are stronger, smarter, and able to face even bigger challenges. They don’t just survive, but have the strength to live their life to the fullest.
Curious about coaching and want to learn more? I’d love to talk! Click the link below and sign up for a free consultation. I will help you see where you are, where you want to go, and give you a path to getting there.
Take this one step for your future self. She will thank you for it!