Thursday, May 10, 2012

Practical Help Dealing With Attirude

Attirude: The emotional fragility that accompanies a melanoma diagnosis. Depending on the person, it can move in and take up residence and worsen; or, it can come from out of nowhere and attack in bits and pieces, retreat for a while and come back without warning. It can be shaped and molded to bring out the best in us or it can be left alone and bring out the worst. It creates that "bring it on" and "give it your best shot" and "don't mess with me or mine" attitudes. It precedes our meltdowns. For those of us who live in a permanent state of "meltdown," attirude becomes our mindset. (definition, mine).

I've blogged about attirude so I won't be redundant but will lift up those posts:

What I haven't done, is walk us through how to handle it. What to do about it. How to live with it in such a way that our families and friends aren't scared of us and so they can stop walking on eggshells around us.

Ideally, when we get that melanoma diagnosis we are placed in the hands of a psychiatrist who is trained to work with cancer patients. I don't think that ever happens though, but it should, whether we are diagnosed at stage 0, 4, or somewhere in between. Being given a diagnosis of melanoma without someone trained and on hand to immediately begin talking with us and walking us through the emotional changes is like handing the car keys to a four year old and starting the ignition for them, putting it in gear and saying, "Let's see what you can do and how you can handle this baby."

Who would ever do such a thing? And yet, countless times a day, around the world, people and families are thrown into the new world of melanoma in just such a way and are sent home to face this monster, learn about it on their own, and try and navigate new waters without drowning. The more they learn, the scarier the waters get. And let me tell you, scary, shark-infested waters can change our dispositions without us even realizing it. And when we do actually realize it, often we don't know how to change who we've become. We don't like it.

We don't like knowing what we know and living with what we live with. We don't like looking at our spouses and/or young children, or children of any age,  and fearing for their future and for our own. We don't like slowly (or quickly depending on circumstances) draining finances and taking away any security in order that we might live. We don't like knowing we may not see our kids grow up and what our absence may mean for their future. We don't like living with the fear of death and of the unknown and we watch what melanoma does to our peers and we know our turn is coming. Or may come. Or maybe not and we'll never know until we know. We don't like knowing that there's a chance we maybe could have lived differently and made better choices along the way and not be in this position and we can't turn the clock back. We don't like knowing that melanoma is now in our family history and those children we dearly love and would gladly lay down our lives for could be the next ones to get it and begin their own journey of horror.

And we don't like knowing what all this can do to our moods. Our emotions become fragile and we realize we really are mortal and our bodies really have let us down. And, maybe God has let us down, too. And we can feel hopeless and helpless and nobody understands and how can they when we don't understand ourselves? Often a psychiatrist is out of the financial picture. Clergy may help, but honestly, unless they've got their own melanoma diagnosis, they aren't going to fully understand. That doesn't mean, though, that good help isn't available from clergy, and if nothing else, a good compassionate listening ear is always useful. Friends and family can provide ears and help, but let's face it, they're the ones who catch our attirude.

Melanoma turns our world upside down. It just does.

We can't change our situation with melanoma, but, we can change how we cope with it. We can change who we are in our situation.

How? Well, first we need to admit we have a problem. If anyone has made remarks about your attitude, it may be time to take those remarks seriously. If your children aren't climbing in your lap like they used to or seem scared of you somehow, if the other parent is constantly telling them to let you rest or leave you alone, if people in your household act like they're walking on eggshells around you, it's time to admit you have a problem with your attitude.

And you may feel entitled to being snappy, angry, depressed, or full of self-pity. I'm not suggesting you don't have just cause...what I am suggesting however is the people you love the most in the world need you to get a grip. They want to help you and love you and support you, but you've got to let them. Driving them away doesn't help anyone. They didn't ask for this diagnosis anymore than you did and in a way, your diagnosis is theirs. Become a united team, not a divided household.

Use this as a teaching time for your children, if you have any. How do you want them to see you face this? As a victim or as a fighter and survivor? Should you eventually die from melanoma, do you want them to remember you as someone they were afraid of or as someone who brought them into the fight and loved them through the toughest of times? They need to see the tears, but they don't need a constant flood. There's a difference.

The strongest, bravest face you wear will help you also. Pump yourself up, don't pull yourself down. We know to do that physically. We need to do that spiritually and emotionally/psychologically as well. And when you change that attirude for the better, people are attracted to you and want to help. We need help from others. It's just that simple. If those killer attitudes aren't harnessed and brought under control, people (even family) aren't going to be there for you like they would otherwise.

Admitting the problem is key and then so is seeking help. Talk with someone who understands. This goes for the one with melanoma as well as for the closest family that lives with them. Patient: find someone who has melanoma, preferably your gender and at least your own stage and has traveled this road longer than you have. Caregiver: find someone who is a caregiver and has, preferably, been one longer than you and is your same gender.

If you can tap into at least one online support group, that will be most beneficial. Support of your opposite gender is great, but there will probably be things to discuss that you'll be more comfortable talking over with another person of your sex. Support groups will provide a mixing of genders, races, and ages.

There are several support groups for melanoma survivors and their families on Facebook. There's a thriving melanoma community just waiting to embrace all of you. You can plug in through Melanoma Prayer Center and message me there and let me know what type of support you need. If there's a support group where you live that will be great. Admit you need support and then take steps to get it.

And, learn yourself. Learn how to tell when a full-blown case of attirude is about to kick in and learn what works for you to either stop it or to lessen its effects. Often it will begin a couple of months before your next appointment of any kind. You might start to feel teary, antsy or forgetful. Irritate easily, or sleep more or less than usual. Your appetite may lessen or go through the roof and if you're a drinker you may find yourself reaching for more drinks than usual and at odd times of the day. You may become a hermit. Look for changes in behavior, dress, language, hygiene, etc. Those will be good indicators that something's going on inside and you may be building up in attirude. If you're living in a permanent state of any of these changes, please seek help for your sake and for your family's sake.

So, admit there's a problem, seek help and support, learn your own signs and symptoms, acknowledge your caregiver and family suffers from your attirude and insist they get help as well in living with you.

If you aren't a praying person, now's a great time to start and grow close to God. If you already are a praying person, now's a great time to grow closer to God. Whatever your religious upbringing, or lack thereof, now's a great time to get to know the God of the universe. Learning to live with melanoma is almost like going through a 12-Steps recovery program. It really is. We are powerless in the face of melanoma and can't do a thing about it on our own. Living with melanoma can make us feel like we're going insane and our lives are unmanageable. We decide the only way to get through it is to turn to God or a Power Greater than ourselves. We open our eyes to our own behavior, including any attirudinal tendencies. We talk it out with God and with another person. We ask God to not only remove our attirude problems but all our shortcomings and we pray against our melanoma also. We remember the pain our blow-ups have caused and apologize to those we've hurt and make any necessary amends. We stay conscious of our behavior and do our best to stay on top of it and when we mess up we take steps to correct it. We keep praying about ourselves and our families and we reach out to help others deal with their own melanoma and control the havoc it can cause in their lives. We pay it forward. We keep deciding over and over to live like the survivor we are and not like a victim.

That's the attirude that accompanies our diagnosis, whatever our stage. As we live with the disease, particularly if it worsens, our emotions can go, well, haywire is a fairly nice way to put it. If there is active tumor growth and those tumors are multiplying in organs, it's terrifying beyond words. There really are no words.

Again, please acknowledge your very real fears and anger, all the concerns you have. Don't be put off by the "strength" others exhibit. You don't see them when the lights are out and they're alone. You don't see them when their own attirude flares.

If there's money in the budget, or if insurance will pay for it, talk with your oncologist and ask them to refer you to a good psychiatrist who works with cancer patients. Again, tap into the online community for support. Remember, everything you are feeling, others are feeling. You will have no totally unique feelings or emotions. They may have your own individual twist, but plenty of people will understand and identify with whatever you are going through. Just be honest and you'll be surprised.

The melanoma road is rough and rocky. It sucks. It's painful and full of fear. It changes more than our physical health, it can change our mental health, our emotions, and our spiritual outlooks. Everybody lives with something. This is what we live with. But we have choices.

We choose whether to live as a victim or as a survivor and fighter. We choose whether to make our families victims or survivors and fighters, too.

We choose whether to close ourselves in and off from the world and from support or we choose to bare as much as we're comfortable baring and seek help with this journey.

We choose how much power and control we'll give melanoma. Will we let disease rule or will we let God rule?

We choose how to face this. We choose what we'll teach our children about life, death, and the dash in between. We choose what's important. We choose our priorities. We choose what changes we may need to make in our lives and in our ways of coping. We choose whether to rise above or sink below. We choose to be our best or to be our worst. We choose whether to work to bring melanoma down or not.

We're going to deal with attirude the rest of our lives. We choose whether we'll rule it or will it rule us? We choose how to use our attirude; will we learn to control it and focus it or let it run wild? Will we let it hurt us and our families or not?

Will we let God in the picture and help us or will we thumb our noses at Him?

I'm not grateful for melanoma and I sure hate my attirude. But they have helped me find my better self and for that

I am grateful.

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