When asked, “How are you doing?” my answer was always, “Fine!” Not wanting to complain is one thing. Denial is something else. For a long time, I hid from my illness by denying its effects on myself and my family. Denial is a potentially fatal mistake.
As a physician, I knew to look for denial and, in life threatening instances such as heart attacks, to quickly confront it so that it did not jeopardize my treatment or my patient. I thought I was pretty good at rooting out denial and removing it from the equation.
As a patient, I’ve discovered three things. Number one is that a clever patient can hide his/her illness and thus deny it, and number two, that denial has protective qualities of its own. The third thing I already knew. Having a patient advocate with you at office visits is helpful both to the patient and his physician but that denial can be so complete that it can be missed even by a loving spouse.
I’m the clever patient who hid the extent of my illness from my doctors, my spouse and myself. By carefully timing my medications or even taking extra pills, I looked good whenever I saw my doctors. Since I looked good, they told me I was good; and, rather than pay attention to how I really was, I convinced myself and others that I was “fine.”
Doctors are always under the gun. They have limited time with their patients and patient charting. If their electronic medical record (EMR) does not prompt them to ask a question, they usually won’t. In my case, the EMR did not ask about activities of daily living (ADL) so my physicians never asked. Renee knew I was worsening as she was starting to take on more of my ADLs but either supported my denial or just didn’t bring it up as no one ever asked her.
Meanwhile, my condition quietly worsened. Eventually, my self-deception was penetrated by the most unlikely of sources, my insurance company. It was then that I realized, for the first time in 40 years, how protective denial could truly be. I had been taught that denial was a bad thing, and, as a physician, we had to recognize and treat it.
Forced to look at how bad I really was led to depression and the addition of depression to Parkinson’s led to me giving up. I’ve made lots of excuses for my weight problem; but, in reality, I think it was a direct result from my quitting life and withdrawing to sleep and eating.
Once the veil of my denial was penetrated and I was forced to look at how much function I had lost, I had two choices. I made the wrong choice. The right choice was to fight this damned disease. I’m back in the fight now. I’ve started in a program called “Rock Steady” and am learning to box and exercise again. I’m actively working on reducing my weight. I’m working on the depression as well. While I can’t reverse the damage from Parkinson’s, I can learn to live with what I have.
I’ve also stopped denying other’s offers of help. Yes, I’ve accepted Renee’s help dressing and bathing. I even have accepted that I have to give up cooking. Maybe, given time, her bathing and dressing me will become fun (wishful thinking). I let others hold the door for me, and, in a grocery store, I now use the scooter. I even answer the question, “How are you doing?” honestly. This morning, it’s not so good. I’m freezing a lot and have come close to falling twice so far.
Researching dirty jokes is a great way to counter depression. It’s impossible to stay depressed when you are laughing. Renee is my editor and hearing her laugh at my daily jokes is marvelous. Writing helps as well.
If you or a loved one are in denial, please see your doctor or counselor. Denial must be handled with great care. Like most things, it can be good, bad or a combination of the two. Regardless, it needs to be recognized and dealt with; and the consequences of dealing with it have to be addressed. Unfortunately, I had to get sick to learn this lesson.
Here are your jokes for today:
The seven stages of grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, Saturday, Sunday.
If lawyers are disbarred and priests are defrocked, then…
Electricians are delighted
Corpses are decrypted
Cowboys are deranged
Models are deposed
Underwear models are debriefed
Dry cleaners are depressed, decreased and depleted
Jilted women are debrided
HVAC technicians are deducted
Tennis linemen are defaulted
Florists are deflowered
Students are detested
Hostels are debunked
Spies are debugged and detailed
Corporations are deformed and delimited
Celibate people are delayed
Chauffeurs are derided
Record keepers are described
Plumbers are dethroned
Clerks are defiled
Traffic cops are defined
Naturists are denuded
Election officials are devoted
Accountants are decertified
Builders are deconstructed
Confused people are demystified
Intelligence officials are declassified
Interpreters for the deaf are designed
Road builders are degraded
Waiters are deserved
Horses put out to stud are desired
Castles are demoted
Organ donors are delivered
Anything certain is depending
And if you found this funny, you’re probably demented, defective and in denial