The 5 Stages: Coping With A New Diagnosis
Last updated: November 2022
Diagnoses can come in many forms and take on various weights. For example, a diagnosis for the common cold may be a little annoying and require some changes for a brief amount of time such as getting extra rest and drinking more fluids to stay hydrated. But what about the diagnoses that change our lives forever?
Receiving the diagnosis of a chronic condition - such as hepatitis C - can feel frustrating, ominous, and often times confusing. It can be one of the most overwhelming experiences and lead to a roller coaster of emotions. It is often said that the five stages of grief (which are typically associated with death or a loss) are quite applicable to beginning your journey with a chronic condition. Understanding these stages can help to manage the various feelings one experiences with a new, life-changing diagnosis.
What are the five stages?
You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief before, which include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s helpful to remember that not everyone who has been diagnosed with a chronic condition will experience all stages, some may not experience any of the stages, and some may experience them in different orders. Let’s look at some of the features of each of the stages.
In the first stage of grief, one may find themselves rejecting the diagnosis they have received. Some may seek out additional opinions from other physicians, hoping that the diagnosis is incorrect. There may be research into the disease and to refute the chronic condition diagnosis. Some may not share the news with those who are close to them in hopes that the news might not be correct. You may find yourself saying things such as: “That doesn’t sound, right?” or “There must be another explanation”.
Maybe you skipped the denial part and instead first experienced anger. A diagnosis of a chronic condition may lead one to feel like they want to yell or scream or punch a pillow. You may feel resentment at others who don’t have your diagnosis and who may not understand what it is like to experience a day in your shoes. You may say things such as: “This isn’t fair!” You may feel annoyed or mad at your family members, your job or coworkers, the stranger in front of you at the grocery store. In this stage, you may even feel anger toward yourself.
The third stage of grief is known as bargaining. The bargaining stage is about trying to regain some of the control that you may feel you lost when receiving the diagnosis. Some people may negotiate with a higher power that they believe in to help wrangle the thoughts they are having. You may say such things as “If you make this go away, I promise to...”. We may often bargain, wondering if we had done something different or if we promise to change certain ways if the situation will change or even disappear.
This stage is about grieving the loss of self (or former self). One may also feel sad. as they may not be able to do things that they did before. Feeling depressed with the news can sometimes overtake a person. During this stage, it may be helpful to seek out support from others either with close friends or family or from a licensed professional as this stage can be easy to fall into and hard to get out of.
Arriving at the stage of acceptance may take some time. There comes a point when you will "make peace” with the diagnosis and realize that it does not define who you are. In this stage, you have a much better understanding of the condition, you learn methods of coping with it and how life can be with the condition. When you embrace the inevitable, you will open the doors that can lead to understanding and even opportunities.
You are not alone
No matter if you experience one stage or all stages, remember that feeling these feelings can be normal as you process how the diagnosis will affect your day to day and long term goals. There is no set time limit that people experience in each stage. Embrace the stages of grief and learn how to use them to help you guide the physical, emotional and psychological journey of managing your new diagnosis. Remember that on this journey- you are NOT alone. There are others who have walked this journey before you and who are there to serve as companions on this emotional roller coaster. Never be afraid to ask for help here in our community and know that there are always people that are listening and are here for you!
Share with the community
Did you experience the 5 stages of grief upon being diagnosed with psoriasis? Share your story with the community on how you handled your diagnosis and what advice you might give to someone beginning on this new path?