Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

I hereby deny that I’m in denial.

Denial can be a good thing and denial can be a bad thing…a really bad thing.  Denied stampSometimes, doctors agree that it can be a relatively healthy thing – for a short period of time.  Several days, or even weeks, might actually be beneficial when absorbing really difficult news or situations.  But, eventually – life makes us look at things that are incredibly uncomfortable or unpleasant and we have to pull the veil away to deal with what’s in front of us.  A little bit of denial is the psychological pain reliever that helps us eventually lets logic and our rational mind deal with what we’re faced with.

Denial is just a coping mechanism that helps us stall, when faced with overwhelming issues – especially medical ones.

There are a couple of people in my life, that I’m dealing with right now, that have medical issues they don’t want to face.  Both are staring down the double-barrel shotgun of organ issues that are catastrophic.

But, neither individual wants to buy a ticket to the lottery that they could or could not win.  I understand this, because it is a scary thing to have to make decisions that could affect the rest of what is left of your life.

The problem with even a healthy dose of denial (as long as it is short-term), is that it could interfere with decisions that could impact your health and well-being.

The Mayo Clinic says that denial is when you:

  • Refuse to acknowledge a stressful problem or situation.
  • Avoid facing the facts of the situation.
  • Minimize the consequences of the situation.

For the most part, denial is an unconscious thing – and you would think that people don’t DECIDE to be in denial.  However, research shows that on some level (and really, you and I know this to be true) – you might be choosing to navigate the waters of the river of denial.  [You know the old joke, right?  Cleopatra, being the Queen of De’ Nile.]

The thing about denial is this, it becomes our go-to emotion whenever we are faced with:

Chronic or Terminal Illness.

Depression or Mental Health Conditions

Addiction

Financial Problems

Job Difficulties

Relationship Conflicts

Traumatic Events

It doesn’t even have to be YOUR issue.  You can pick one of those topics that is happening to you or someone you love and denial can be your thing, instead of looking at the truly painful thing before you.

While the docs might agree that denial can be helpful, for a short period of time, I’m here to tell you it can mess a person – a life – or a family up.  Big time.

I have known families who ignored Grandpa’s Alzheimer’s until one day, he turns up missing – landing miles away from home, with no idea how he got there or where to return to, or they had to eventually face the fact that his body had given in to the brain’s inability to complete the simple tasks of surviving (like eliminating waste and the ability to swallow) and they were overwhelmed by the sadness of it all, scratching their heads and asking, “What happened?”.

I have known other individuals who have spent 47 out of 61 years of their time on this planet drinking massive amounts of alcohol and abusing both illegal and prescribed drugs — and when their liver panels showed evidence of preliminary failing, they were (supposedly) incapable of comprehending what went wrong and thrusting themselves into panic mode to attempt to repair the damage that had been done.

I was married to one and related to the other.

Now, I have the painful ringside seat to a loved one who has made the choice to ignore the doctor’s warnings about a medical condition that needs to be attended to and there are only a handful of choices left to address the issue(s).  While my first instinct is to pull my hair out, gnash and grind my teeth and stand on a very large box to spew words of logic and love… I know I cannot.

So, what’s a person to do when someone you love immensely is in denial and in danger of hurting themselves (and, ultimately, you)?  How do you deal with them and not lose your mind?

1)      You have to be patient.  They say that denial is like a “shock absorber for the soul.”  Some people need more time to deal with painful situations.  You might be peeved by it, but get over yourself.  Overall, this is about them – not you.  Shut your piehole and give them the time they need.

2)      Denial or Lack of Knowledge?  Know that there is a difference.  You can help your (terribly vexing) loved one by gathering information, so that they can fully comprehend all of their options, symptoms/issues, treatments/solutions and what to expect.  Don’t be afraid to engage them in conversation with experts or others who have been in their shoes.

3)      Speak and repeat yourself.  But — watch your tongue. You don’t want to sound preachy or judgmental, but know that you might have to state your case more than once, in order to get through.  Seriously, write it down and repeat it – calmly – more than once, as needed.

4)      Let go of your ego and your opinion.  Pain that leads to denial isn’t always loaded with manners and etiquette.  Until you’re in those shoes, you have no idea how pinching and painful they can be.  They are obviously suffering, so let go of whatever piddly discomfort you’re in.

5)      Don’t be afraid to gently lead discussion.  Yeah, it’s not easy.  I know.  But force yourself to softly and calmly ask questions about what’s really going on and what the future might hold.

6)      Know the difference between Hope & Denial.  Being in denial and being hopeful are two very different things.  Hope means pushing on with a very clear idea about what the realities of a situation are.  Denial does not like the facts.

7)      Connect and Educate. To retain your own sanity, you need to stay educated about the facts at hand and find others to speak to about what you’re knee-deep in.  Don’t believe the old “Misery loves company” mentality.  Embrace the “strength in numbers” adage, instead.

I can tell you from experience, excruciating and painful experience, that there are times when denial cannot be overcome.  What do you do then?

Well, not much.

You breathe and you move forward.   You also have to allow the person in denial to deal with their stuff at their own pace.  There is only so much you can do, with someone who is in denial, and then you have to deal with you.  You can follow the above-mentioned information, but at the end of the day it can help to remember that detaching enough to keep oneself healthy (both emotionally and physically)… is in everybody’s best interest.  You also need to find a support group or a group of friends or loved ones who can help you understand the madness that denial can be, for everyone connected to it.  Please know, I know how maddening it can be to have to face down someone else’s denial – but I’m asking you, nicely: Do not deny yourself these basic rights… as you deal with your own Cleopatra.

“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” – Mark Twain

“It’s not denial.  I’m just selective about the reality I accept.” – Bill Waterson

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