Coping with Bad News

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Raffles
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Coping with Bad News

Unread postby Raffles » Mon Jul 13, 2020 5:21 pm

TW: This post contains mentions of cancer, death, and COVID-19.

This is a bit of a long story in four-ish parts, but here it goes.

It started about a year and a half ago in my freshman year of college. Thanksgiving break of that year, I met up with one of my coaches. She had started me on the sport when I was 6, so I’d known her for about 12 years at that point. On the day before I left to go back to school, she told me that she had stage 4 cancer and was likely going to die within 6 months. We weren’t particularly close, but she was still a constant part of my childhood.

I had a teacher in high school that I was close to, and she helped me out with some of the things I went through. She kept in touch with people that graduated before me, so I thought it would be okay if I did the same. Before I graduated, I also asked if she wanted to keep in touch, and she said that she did. I sent her a few texts over summer and fall semester, but they mostly went unanswered. I was sad about having been ghosted, and maybe a little bitter, but I was able to get over it. I came back home over winter break and met up with some friends who also knew her. Apparently she had been diagnosed with an early form of breast cancer. She’d posted about it on social media, but since I didn’t have any at the time, I completely missed the message. I felt incredibly guilty for being upset about her lack of support when I should have been the one supporting her. She’s doing well now, but it was still stressful. We haven’t talked much since.

When I came home for summer break last year, an awkward conversation revealed that my dad forgot to tell me that his mom had cancer. She died a few months latter.

A few days ago, I found out that one of my friends had COVID back in spring. I know she’s got some existing health stuff, so it could have been very bad. Luckily she’s getting better, but I’m still worried about her.

Other things that also happened in the past two years: A student at college that I was sort of friends with also had cancer. My mom was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and they didn’t tell me formally. It just sort of came up in a conversation, and now I know.

I 100% respect the need for privacy, especially when it comes to serious health issues. I am a very private person myself, and I probably would have done the same thing. Boundaries are incredibly important, and I completely understand why they made the decisions that they did. I recognize that I'm not in the "inner circle" of any of these people, but I still care about them very much, and I often look up to them. I just hate being blindsided by stuff like that. It’s the same feeling as being the only one not invited to a party but a thousand times worse. Every time this happens, it feels like the floor has disappeared below me, and I’m in a free fall. It’s the worst kind of déjà vu.

I would have done anything I could have for the people listed above because I care about them, but I never got the chance. I keep thinking about how all of these people, not just my grandmother, could have died, and I wouldn’t have even known until after. There would have been no warning. They would just be gone. I know it’s horrible that I’m making this about me, but I don’t really know what to do or why this keeps happening. Is this just what adult life is like? Any thoughts?

Sam W
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Re: Coping with Bad News

Unread postby Sam W » Tue Jul 14, 2020 8:18 am

Hi Raffles,

That's a lot of illness to run up against in such a relatively short time, and I can absolutely see how it's making you stressed and blindsided. And it can be hard, even when you know intellectually that people get to decide who to confide in about their illness, to not feel out of the loop, or like you were denied the chance to help people you care about. There are a couple of ways of reframing it that might be helpful.

One is that bad news generally blindsides us. It can feel like, if we'd known sooner or in a different context, we would have felt less like the rug was yanked out from under us. But with some exceptions, bad news doesn't telegraph it's arrival; you're minding your own business one minute, then dealing with fallout of what you've learned the next.

Too, sometimes it can help to be realistic about what you actually would have been able to do for the person. I found out a month ago that a close friend had had COVID (she recovered), and my gut reaction was, "why didn't she tell me, I could have help?" Except, when I thought about it, the ways I could have helped were minimal. She lives on the opposite coast, and while I could have maybe checked up on her, that wad about all I could have done. Reminding myself of that helps kind of ground me when I have those reactions, you know?

When you think about how you receive bad news in general, is it something that usually hits you pretty hard? Or does it feel like the pandemic has lowered your resilience towards it?

Raffles
not a newbie
Posts: 53
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2020 10:23 am
My Awesomeness Quotient: Quality puns
My primary language: English
My pronouns: they/them/theirs
My sexual identity and orientation: asexual, panromantic, agender
Location: Southwestern USA

Re: Coping with Bad News

Unread postby Raffles » Tue Jul 14, 2020 9:30 am

I'm glad to hear that your friend recovered! With my friend who had it, it was a similar situation as you. We live in very different parts of the country. Honestly, that one hit me less hard, because you're right: There was very little I could have realistically done.

Receiving bad news doesn't hit me all that hard. For example, when my mom's mom died, it was just "Grandma died today." I was sad, but it didn't disrupt my life. I think it's because my parents are doctors, so I've just learned how to compartmentalize about health.

I think it's getting to me now partly because of the pandemic, but also because it just keeps happening. I'm the only thread that connect these people, so I feel like it's something I've done but I can't figure out what it is so I can't change it.

Sam W
scarleteen staff/volunteer
Posts: 6833
Joined: Mon Jul 28, 2014 9:06 am
My Awesomeness Quotient: I raise carnivorous plants
My primary language: english
My pronouns: she/her
My sexual identity and orientation: queer
Location: Desert

Re: Coping with Bad News

Unread postby Sam W » Tue Jul 14, 2020 9:51 am

I've definitely noticed the pandemic is kind of diminishing people's ability to resilient in the face of bad news, in part because there is just so much of it, all the time, so people kind of burn through their reserves and get worn down.

I wonder if it would be helpful to think of it this way: while it may feel like you're the connecting factor, bad luck and sad things are as much random as they are anything else. While we can be careful and do things to minimize certain risks in our lives, there will always be things outside of out control. Part of getting through life is learning to spot the things we can change or do to influence a bad situation, and the times when things are just out of control. Does that make sense?

Raffles
not a newbie
Posts: 53
Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2020 10:23 am
My Awesomeness Quotient: Quality puns
My primary language: English
My pronouns: they/them/theirs
My sexual identity and orientation: asexual, panromantic, agender
Location: Southwestern USA

Re: Coping with Bad News

Unread postby Raffles » Mon Jul 20, 2020 6:36 pm

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to this. I found out the other day (while my dad was speaking to his sister on speaker phone) that a few of the people who work at my grandpa's senior home tested positive for COVID. He's a former smoker with COPD, asthma, and heart disease. If he was exposed, he'll die. I'm honestly so burnt out at this point I feel guilty about how not upset I am, if that makes sense. I was pretty freaked out for the evening, but my life has gone back to normal which shouldn't be normal, I think.

Back to the main point: Letting go of control is definitely very difficult, especially because I'm pretty type A. I get that focusing on the things I can do will help, and I'm currently trying to do that with the internship I have. I'm helping change larger things so that individuals will feel the effects, but it feels very distant from the things in my personal life.

Sam W
scarleteen staff/volunteer
Posts: 6833
Joined: Mon Jul 28, 2014 9:06 am
My Awesomeness Quotient: I raise carnivorous plants
My primary language: english
My pronouns: she/her
My sexual identity and orientation: queer
Location: Desert

Re: Coping with Bad News

Unread postby Sam W » Tue Jul 21, 2020 7:16 am

Ooof, that is scary news to get. I hope everything works out okay. I think feeling burnt is completely understandable right now; that sort of flat, not upset feeling is a way of protecting ourselves from the constant barrage of bad. As much as you can, try not to guilt yourself over that reaction.

I totally get that feeling of the changes you're working for feeling like they're detached from your personal life. If you're working for structural change, it can be really hard to remember that your work is having an effect if the people in your lives (yourself included) are still struggling with those same issues. With your grandfather, are their concrete things you could do, like keeping in contact with him?


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