Denial and Isolation
“The first reaction to learning about loss . . . is to deny the reality of the situation. “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,” people often think. It is a normal reaction to rationalize our overwhelming emotions. . . We block out the words and hide from the facts. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.” —Julie Axelrod (2/8/2019 PyschCentral)
I can definitely relate to this stage of grief. Postponing medical advice for six months falls directly under the “hide from the facts” mindset. Even though deep down I knew something wasn’t right, I continued to live my life as if everything was normal. When confronted by friends or family about my unusual gait or lack of energy I literally snapped at them, “I’m not limping!” Then pushed my anxiety to the back burner.
In an effort to convince myself and others I was simply out of shape, I stubbornly continued to pursue my goal of summiting Mt. Rainier. However, the physical requirements for completing a climbing course left me feeling overwhelmed. I berated myself for becoming out of shape as I looked around the room at the other seemingly fit students. The irony of joining a group only to feel terribly isolated was not at all lost on me, but at that point I was in no position to accept the alternative possibilities for my physical failings.
Once I did seek medical advice and was given the diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis, I fell right into the “this can’t be happening” state of mind. Things like this happen to other people, not me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t wish my situation on anyone else, I just couldn’t believe something that serious was happening to me.
I remember a co-worker suggesting that I was “in denial.” Needless to say, I snapped at him too. No one wants to be reminded of what they’re supposed to be dealing with when they’re in the emotional quagmire of grief. Fortunately, most of my support group (although concerned about my well-being) allowed me the time necessary to process the information and slowly move on to the next stage—anger.