I have what?

Discovering you have a chronic illness

bad ews

Author: Dr. Julie. Sorenson, DMFT, MA, LPC

the initial shock

Tim McGraw sang lyrics that speak to anyone who has discovered a chronic illness. The lyrics go like this “With a lot of life before me. When a moment came that stopped me on a dime. I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays and talkin' 'bout the options. And talkin' 'bout sweet time. I asked him when it sank in that this might really be the real end. How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news (Nicholas, T & Wiseman, C, 2004). 


These lyrics can resonate with anyone that has sat in the doctor’s office and heard the doctor give the news of a chronic or terminal illness. Sitting there in initial shock and feeling like time has stopped, having it challenging to concentrate on what is being said while feeling a pit deep within your stomach is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. A severe diagnosis can alter your life overnight. After receiving the news of a painful diagnosis, people may often feel a sense of failure, overwhelmed, fearful, anxious, or brokenness.

Sometimes people feel like they could have lived their life differently to have prevented the diagnosis is related to the guilt they may be feeling when processing the news.

The unknown can cause anxiety. Treatment and the uncertainty while going through additional testing can create stress, which may bring anger, and you may react to things differently.

Coping with the emotiona rollercoaster after receiving the diagnosis

Many Emotions may be playing through your mind, and you may feel like you are on a rollercoaster of feelings. Tim McGraw sang it best with the lyrics to his song Live Like You Are Dying “ I went Rocky Mountain climbing. I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, and I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I'd been denying. He said someday, I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying" (Nicholas, T & Wiseman, C, 2004). The best thing for people to do is stay positive and ensure they have a support system to help them navigate life after hearing the diagnosis. It is an emotional journey you don’t want to go through alone. Here are some tips to assist you in maneuvering your new chapter of life. 

  • Connect with people, and join a support group. Support groups can assist in you not feeling alone and learning how others have navigated the translon after receiving a severe diagnosis.
  • Don’t neglect your mental health. Listen to your body. Are you feeling depressed, anxious, or lacking energy? Reach out to a mental health provider to assist in providing tools to help you reach the acceptance stage of your diagnosis.
  • Self-care, take time for yourself, allow yourself to relax, and recharge. Listen to music, get out in nature, journal, talk to a friend, meditate, practice mindfulness, and find ways to manage your mental health. Don’t allow yourself to constantly focus on your illness, sit with it for a moment and find activities to improve your mood. Studies have proven that your attitude affects your overall physical health. Live life, participate in social events, and plan activities that bring you joy.
  • Find resources to assist in educating yourself on your diagnosis. Discuss your treatment plan with your provider, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and advocate for yourself. If you don’t understand what your provider says, ask them to talk to you in laymen’s terms.

coping with your diagnosis can be difficult

Receiving a severe diagnosis is life-altering, and you may feel like your life stopped on a dime and had to steer in a different direction. It can be exhausting and lonely as you might be trying to protect the ones you love from your genuine feelings related to your diagnosis. Coping with your diagnosis isn’t easy, but ensuring you take care of your mental health can help you make life changes. 


Not everyone uses healthy coping mechanisms when faced with a difficult diagnosis. They may participate in risk-taking behaviors, look for a time in their life when they felt wild and free, and find relationships that allow them to share their true feelings because sometimes they can’t share those emotions with their family or friends because they want elution of they are vital for their loved ones. Some people may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope. While others may take up gambling. While other people will push their loved ones away to feel a sense of control over something. Unhealthy coping mechanisms are not suitable for you. It may be time to admit you need a professional therapist to provide tools and techniques to teach healthy coping methods. 

Receiving a problematic diagnosis is never easy. It is usual for people to first be in denial. You will go through the grieving process as you must grieve your life before the diagnosis. Research indicates that those who can cope with their diagnosis are crucial in treatment and recovery. Patients who choose a positive mindset allow resilience in the face of adversity. Resilience allows people to persevere and adapt to new life changes. Being emotionally aware and taking time for self-reflection can be imperative in feeling a sense of peace and acceptance, allowing you to flourish in your healing journey. 


Nicholas, T & Wiseman, C, 2004 Live Like You Were Dying, Curb Records

Steele, E, 2022 Coping with a Chronic Illness Diagnosis. Resilience and Emotional Awareness in Chronic Disease, Psychology Today

Steele, E, 2023, Coping With a Severe Diagnosis. Emotional Support From Healthcare Providers is Essential, Psychology Today

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