When coping with kidney disease it is natural to experience a period of “grieving” as your life changes and you try to adjust to the different feelings you may have. You may wonder if your feelings are “normal.” It is important to understand that most people do go though an adjustment process. You may or may not experience all the emotions we describe below, or to the extent described. But, if at any time you do experience these emotions, know that they are common and you are not alone. Discuss your feelings with your doctor. Let’s explore the common emotions that may be experienced in the grieving process.
Denial is an emotion that can be useful after first being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Denial can be healthy because it can protect you from feeling overwhelmed with the new information and diagnosis. Denial, in its healthy form, allows you to take in and process difficult news at a pace that is comfortable and manageable for you. Denial, in its unhealthy form, becomes problematic when you continue to refuse to recognize your illness, which might require you to modify certain aspects of your life, such as your work schedule, diet, or family life. Denial becomes a problem when it keeps you from learning about your diagnosis and being educated about the steps to take to help you stay as healthy as possible.
Anger is also a normal response to learning you have a chronic health condition. This is a time when you’ll have a lot of questions about your condition and the future. You may be angry because you feel like you’re losing control. However, education and involvement in your care can help you regain much of that control.
Bargaining is an attempt to seek ways to get your life back the way it was before the diagnosis. Bargaining may involve attempting to bargain with whatever higher power you believe in to negotiate a compromise.
Depression can be a sign that you have started to accept the reality of your disease. This can be normal when a person is facing a change in his/her health. Sadness, anger, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and/or lack of interest in sex or daily living can be signs that you’re depressed.
- Anxiety – Anxiety can also cause feelings of uneasiness or fear. It may also cause physical signs like a fast pulse tiredness, irritability, excessive sweating and nervousness. If you are experiencing severe depression or anxiety or just having difficulty coping please seek help. Talk to your doctor. You do not have to suffer through these symptoms. There are treatment options available. You need a clear mind in order to make the best decisions for your care.
- Despair – Despair can be seen in a variety of emotions. You may feel hopeless. You could have a lowered self-esteem, loss of pride or a sense of uselessness. You may have concerns about your ability to do things you enjoy. This is a very normal emotion when you have major changes in your life. Becoming involved and understanding your health can ease the feeling of despair.
- Isolation – Isolation can occur if you distance yourself from family and friends. You may not realize
that others want to help you. You may feel people don’t want to hear about your condition. You may not want to depend on other people. Remember, your family and friends want to help you. It’s okay to lean on them for support. Reaching out for support can open up communication among your family. Your family and friends may also be experiencing emotional changes. They may want to share their emotions with you. This strengthens the support system for you, your family, and your friends.
- Acceptance – Some period of adjustment is normal when a major life change happens. It takes time to get used to the idea that life is different than you expected. Figuring out how the hopes, dreams, and plans you had before can fit into your new life is part of adjusting. Feeling sad, cheated or frustrated is a common reaction. Sometimes you need to grieve for the life you thought you would have––before you can accept the new one.Besides time, there are two ingredients you need in order to accept your new life. One is hope. We believe you can still have a good life with kidney disease. We know people all over the country who have kidney disease and receive dialysis. They are still traveling the world, volunteering or working at jobs they love, and even riding their bicycles across the United States. Adjusting to your new way of life will be challenging but not impossible. Others have done it, and you can, too.
The other ingredient you need in order to accept your new life is knowledge. Through learning, you can empower yourself to be the manager of your own healthcare, which will help you to stay as healthy as possible so you can go out and live your dreams.
I understand that my kidneys are failing and I’ll need to seek treatment. I know this. But I’m having a hard time accepting it. I keep thinking about the changes that I’ll have to make and it’s depressing me. Is this normal?
Yes, this is normal. You are normal. The emotions that you are experiencing are in direct response to the impending changes in your life. Maybe you feel like the future you had planned is not so certain any more. Maybe you have always been the person who sees to everyone’s needs and now you need help and a little time to take care of yourself and you’re having a hard time adjusting. Maybe you are the traditional “breadwinner” in the family and now you are feeling unsure of your ability to provide for your family. The stress of sorting and adjusting to these changes can cause many people to turn inward and isolate themselves from others. This isolation coupled with bottled up emotions can lead to depression. Research has shown that depression is the most common emotion felt by people receiving dialysis. Depression can be a sign that you have started to accept the reality of your disease. Sadness, anger,loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and even a lack of interest in sex or daily living can be signs that you’re depressed. You do not have to live with depression. Speak with your healthcare team and get the help you need.
I’m starting to feel anxious and uneasy throughout the day for no apparent reason. What is this?
These feelings could be anxiety. Anxiety can also cause feelings of uneasiness or fear. You may also experience physical signs such as a fast pulse, tiredness, irritability, excessive sweating and nervousness.
What can I do about these feelings?
First and foremost, know that you are not alone. Next, take steps toward getting help. Many people are quick to treat physical conditions and hesitate to get help with their mental and emotional health. Remember that your mental and emotional health directly impacts your physical health. Therefore, it is important that you reach out for support. You should talk to your family and friends. Don’t keep your emotions bottled up. Let those who love you understand what is happening to you. They may need further insight into your feelings so that they can be a part of your support team. If you don’t have people close to you that you would like to talk to, remember there are other people just like you experiencing the exact same things. You can join a support group. Support groups help you to connect with others and can provide insight on how to cope. You can find a support group in your area by contacting the National Kidney Foundation through their website, www.kidney.org. Remember to talk to your doctor about your feelings. There are treatments for depression and anxiety. You do not have to suffer through these symptoms.