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Spotlight: The lessons of illness

Posted: Thursday, Oct 25th, 2012




Iíve never had a major or long-term illness, but Iíve seen others go through different types of illness. The lessons they learned and the lessons I learned are life changing.

Being that October is cancer awareness month Iíve been reflecting on a very special person who was lost to cancer. This also made me think about the other illnesses and diseases that many people have to live with on a daily basis. Long-term illness has many consequences, unexpected side effects, heartbreak, and struggles. But it can also bring about some benefits as well.

I know itís hard to see the bright side of things when it comes to some illnesses, but if a person must live with it, why not make the best of it?

Some would call me naive, others might say Iím overly optimistic, but Iíve seen people who have chosen to look at the bright side and compared to the alternative of feeling sorry for oneself, Iíd pick the bright side. Some psychologists involved in Positive Psychology would agree with me. Now donít get me wrong, just because I think a person can experience growth after a traumatic event doesnít mean they wonít experience pain, or can just skip over the suffering that is an inevitable part of most traumas. I just believe that growth is both possible and beneficial.

In psychology there are two theories that most psychologists look at when someone has experienced a trauma in their life, such as dealing with a long-term illness. One is that the person might experience post traumatic stress (PTS) the other is that the person can also experience post traumatic growth (PTG).

PTS is when a person randomly begins to think about the trauma at unexpected times and the thoughts are unwanted. This can cause stress, fear, isolation, depression and anxiety, just to name a few consequences. PTG is when a person finds a way to change their perception about the trauma, they choose to learn something from it, they experience some kind of positive change in their life.

PTG is not a new concept, but it has been a subject of a lot of research since the attack on the twin towers of 9-11. According to psychologists at the University of North Carolina, ďSometimes people who must face major life crises develop a sense that new opportunities have emerged from the struggle, opening up possibilities that were not present before. A second area is a change in relationships with others. Some people experience closer relationships with some specific people, and they can also experience an increased sense of connection to others who suffer. A third area of possible change is an increased sense of oneís own strength Ė Ďif I lived through that, I can face anything.í A fourth aspect of posttraumatic growth experienced by some people is a greater appreciation for life in general. The fifth area involves the spiritual or religious domain. Some individuals experience a deepening of their spiritual lives.Ē



What illness can teach you:

That you are stronger than you thought Ė as stated above if I was able to survive that then I can survive this, or anything else. My daughter said earlier this month that sheís been going through a lot lately, at school, but she also said that it just means that God trusts her enough to know that sheíll make it through. He never gives us more than we can bear.

There is only now Ė surviving an illness or any traumatic event can really make you appreciate every day. It can make a person realize how short life can be, and whatís really important. Iíve often heard people say at the end of their life that their only regret is that they didnít love more, or spend more time with their family. Be sure to love the people that love you and take time to smell the flowers. You also realize that life isnít all about you. You start to imagine what life would be like for those you love if you werenít there. Suddenly you realize that you need to take care of a few things, and that you need to make sure people know a few secrets.

That you are not a victim Ė identifying yourself as a victim of your situation only takes away your power, strength, joy and limits your choices. Instead identify yourself as a survivor. Acknowledge your strength, courage, wisdom, truth, compassion and new understanding. A victim mentality keeps you living in fear, but a survivor mentality can allow you to help others.

To be happy with what you have instead of always wishing for more Ė My aunt had cancer and always admired my thick, long hair, wishing that her hair was like mine. But when she lost all her hair suddenly the hair she had wasnít so bad. There is a human phenomenon called hedonic treadmill. This is a cycle people get into that when they get something theyíve always wanted they arenít satisfied with it for long and soon find themselves wanting more, but the more they get the more they want. They spend their lifetime obtaining money and things only to find out that all that money or things didnít bring them more happiness. Instead be thankful for everything you have, because an attitude of gratitude will draw into your life more things to be grateful for.

Whatever trauma you may have experienced in life I pray that you are able to experience PTG instead of just PTS.



Tori Vigil is an author, inspirational speaker, and reporter. She can be reached at torivigil@yahoo.com














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