Your first task is learning to deal with your feelings in the most constructive way. The people who flee from their distress play a game of make-believe, pretending nothing has happened to disturb them seriously. But suppressed feelings have a way of backfiring, of taking control. Studies of people undergoing operations show, for example, that those who deny their fear do not recover as quickly as those who allow themselves to experience their underlying anxiety. Similarly, the more honestly you face the pain and shock of learning the diagnosis of your child's condition, the more quickly you will reduce your level of stress and gain a sense of competence.
Allowing yourself to get in touch with and experience your feelings does not put you at the mercy of uncontrolled emotions, but rather leads you to sources of strength. If you cannot acknowledge your feelings to yourself, you can't share them with those around you.
So denying your feelings has the hurtful consequence of cutting you off from the precious support that friends and loved ones can give you, support that is all-important in helping you to cope. The effect of denial is to build a wall between you and others — especially between you and your family, between you and the child you love. That child will experience you as withdrawing and hostile, and will come to feel rejected and unlovable.
The energy generated by great stress can be used positively or negatively — the choice is yours. If the energy is used to deny reality or your feelings, it cannot be used constructively. If the energy is channeled into prolonged anger and bitterness, it is no longer available for a positive response to your situation. Even more damaging, if it goes into attitudes of guilt and self-blame, it can undermine your self-esteem, your family and your marriage.
If you direct the tremendous force of this energy into coping creatively with your situation, however, it has the power to raise you and the members of your family to a new and more meaningful level of functioning, relating and living. Your attitude — the way you view your world — is what will determine the direction your life takes at this point. The well-known writer Richard Bach put it well: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.”
It’s very common for people to lose their sense of humor, or sometimes stop laughing altogether, when a child gets sick or becomes disabled. I strongly feelthat is actually the time to keep laughing despite the fears and confusion which might be assailing us. We must develop and nurture a healthy sense of humor, look at the lighter and brighter side of things, and continue to laugh at life in the midst of our despair if we want to survive.