So many of us are shocked when we receive the diagnosis of osteoporosis. We’ve seemingly been healthy, vibrant, and have taken good care of ourselves. We take calcium, we exercise—well, maybe not so much, but still…osteoporosis? All this time we thought this was a disease that older women had to worry about. Not us.
Often when we hear, or read, about osteoporosis it tends to address the cause, effects, treatment and how to help with prevention by building bone density. Instead I want to talk about the emotional and cognitive aspects of this frightening diagnosis.
Osteoporosis, how could it be?
So many of us have a stereotypical view of who develops osteoporosis and who does not. It’s certainly not us. We envision someone who is much older, fragile or frail, bent over, and out of shape. We’re shocked to discover that this is not necessarily true. It’s not only older women who receive this scary and upsetting diagnosis. We might be surprised that we may not even be able to detect someone who has osteoporosis.
This Can’t Happen to Me
For some of us, when we receive this diagnosis we may go into denial, or retreat into a numb place within ourselves. We may move back and forth between feeling deeply upset and denying the diagnosis. We may start obsessing about how only older women have osteoporosis and not vital, funny, intelligent, sexy women.
This, or other, obsessive patterns can deepen the depression and a sense of helplessness. Sometimes the disbelief is around the feeling that this can’t happen to me. Unlike many other diseases, this silent disease often presents with no symptoms and thus no warning. We have no time to emotionally prepare ourselves.
We’re Not Going to be a Victim
For others, after the denial lifts, we rush to fix the issue. We jump into action. We set up an exercise regime that might include walking, yoga, and aerobics. We begin taking calcium and vitamin D. These actions certainly help us to feel as if we can regain control of the body that we might feel has betrayed us somehow. Although these are all very helpful ways of addressing what’s happening, it also helps us to feel less powerless and that we can really do something about this. We’re not a victim.
Then once the new exercise and supplement regime is in place often our frozen feelings begin to thaw. Once we’re doing something about the diagnosis, hopefully feelings start to emerge because the emotions need to be experienced. There is no short cut to feeling the feelings.
Dealing with Our Underlying Feelings
For some of us, however, we need to first identify, and perhaps work through, those feelings of anger, disappointment, and resentment before following through with life changes and pattern shifting. We may experience sadness, anger, fear, resentment, anxiety and depression. There may even be a sense of guilt around this diagnosis. We might feel as if we are somehow responsible and struggle with thoughts such as:
- How did I not know this was happening?
- How did this happen?
- What part did I play?
- How come I couldn’t prevent this?
If we feel as if we are the victim we could further exacerbate whatever feelings we are experiencing. Because besides the feelings we may experience about the diagnosis, there may be a small part of us that really doesn’t want to make any changes in our lifestyle.
Facing Our Fear
We might be angry that we must make any changes to our life because of osteoporosis. Feeling as if we must alter our lifestyle might cause us to grieve a loss of personal identity. Yet at the same time, fear could prevent us from enjoying what we love to do. We might begin to view everyday activities as a risk of falling and breaking a bone. This can make us feel discouraged and frustrated. These emotions could interfere with sleep and our feelings of wellbeing. Burying these emotions could erode at our confidence, and cause further distress.
Go Ahead and Throw a Temper Tantrum
We may need to first throw an adult tantrum to move some of the resistance out of our bodies. I often encourage my psychotherapy clients to do just this when they are feeling resistance to doing something that ultimately, they know is in their highest good.
- Lay down on your bed where it’s soft and safe and flail your arms and legs.
- Stamp your feet, kick them, and if you’re comfortable say aloud, or in your head, “I don’t want to. I don’t want to. I don’t want to.”
- When you feel done and come up—and you’ll most likely know when you are done—notice how differently you might feel.
- I suspect some of the tightness and tensions in your body that you previously experienced has dissipated significantly, if not totally, and that you feel lighter.
This emotional release technique is a wonderful way of releasing feelings that might be connected to the resistance. Instead of fighting the resistance, which seldom works anyway, we are working toward releasing the opposition through this physical means. I love a good adult tantrum.
Embracing the Opportunity
Often we need to go through the process of denial, disbelief, and shock. If you struggle to do this on your own, a psychotherapist might be able to help you process these feelings. Then you can start to feel the feelings and then find ways to work through them and release them. Then, hopefully the next stage is embracing this opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes.
It's fascinating how a diagnosis can transform from a personal tragedy into a healing opportunity.Rebekah Rotstein, international exercise presenter and movement educator
- We may have previously thought about integrating more exercise into our life yet, not really followed through with it until now.
- Perhaps we thought about reducing salt, regularly taking supplements, vitamin D, or adding homeopathic treatments and can now put those good intentions into action.
- Instead of isolating ourselves, we can research and investigate the disease to gain accurate information and learn what to expect and how to manage it.
- We can still do things that we enjoy and make us happy, we just might need to be proactive and make small adjustments for our safety and health.
- We can work with our emotions and fears by meditating, using emotional release techniques, joining a support group, or by talking to a therapist.
The diagnosis of osteoporosis can be upsetting, but it can also provide us with the opportunity to take charge of our emotional and physical health and follow through with positive lifestyle changes.
Taking Charge of Our Emotions
If you struggle with processing the emotions accompanying a diagnosis such as osteoporosis, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance and Counseling located on Long Island can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people find methods to work through uncomfortable emotions that might interfere with emotional wellbeing and prevent the enjoyment of daily activities.