Emotional Health | Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation

Emotional Health

No one is prepared for the shock of learning they have a serious disease. But in the aftermath of diagnosis, patients can and do learn how to adjust to their condition. With helpful AAMDSIF resources, they can learn about their illness, build their own support system and connect with their peers. But before that happens, patients have to deal with a range of powerful emotions.  

Coping Emotionally with Bone Marrow Failure Disease

A disease diagnosis is unquestionably a difficult life event. Nevertheless, many patients develop a positive attitude about managing stress and undergoing treatment - and you can too.  Your life may now have certain limitations, but it is within your power to  learn the coping skills that will help you live with bone marrow failure disease.

It's important to accept that while building your skills, you will experience the emotional stages that are normal when you have setbacks or make progress. 

What are normal reactions to diagnosis of a chronic illness?

It is normal to experience a range of emotions when you receive a diagnosis of bone marrow failure disease. Often progressing through distinct stages, you may experience:

  • Shock:  “I didn’t really feel bad”, might be your first reaction when bone marrow failure disease is first confirmed and you have been feeling well.
  • Worry:  “What does the future hold?” Looking ahead, you naturally wonder what your life will be like in the coming weeks, months and years.
  • Confusion: “What does all this mean?” You want to know exactly what is happening and why.
  • Betrayal/Anger: “How could my body have failed me?”. Although you have had occasional physical ailments, you never have had a serious condition and feel that your once-reliable body has betrayed you.
  • Resolve: “I can deal with this – passive acceptance is not an answer”. It’s perfectly normal to experience all of the above reactions, but when you decide to move beyond them and learn the habits and skills of the “powerful patient”, you are beginning to taking charge of yourself. 

Reacting to your reactions:  Your attitude is critical when it comes to building coping skills

There's nothing wrong with any of the above reactions, and it's okay to have them. The key is how you choose to respond to them. 

  • Choose to manage stress and worry - although these can never be totally eliminated, they can be managed
  • Choose to move ahead with your life - although your life has changed, you can still take one day at a time and focus on the necessary things you must do and the elective things you want to do.
  • Choose to enjoy things you have always enjoyed - realize that although things have changed with your physical condition, your interests, hobbies, relationships, and most professional skills still exist and, with exceptions concerning physical activity, you can still enjoy them.
  • Choose to find new areas of support – you don’t have to cope alone. Beyond family and friends, help is available from patient support organizations (such as AA&MDSIF), church communities, professional help such as trained social workers, psychologists, community counseling services, and informally organized support groups.

Learn to recognize and control depression and anxiety caused by chronic illness

With the major challenge of a chronic or even life-threatening disease, patients can easily become depressed and/or anxious about their new health circumstances. The key is to be able to recognize the symptoms and take appropriate action.

Symptoms of depression

  • A period of sadness or despair that lasts 2 weeks or more
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless, isolated, and overwhelmed
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Problems with eating, sleeping and general daily functioning
  • Problems with anger and interpersonal relations
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs

Symptoms of anxiety can coexist with depression, and may include feelings of fear, phobia panic, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors, in addition to ones associated with depression.

Build a positive attitude by reframing assumptions, attitudes and expectations

Make progress towards your goal of living each day to the best of your ability by identifying the life situations you have control over and the ones you don’t have control over. By making concrete action plans for what you can control and not focusing on areas you can't control, you can make the most out of like, which includes getting the best possible health care.

  • Examine your options in the situations you have control over
  • Don’t spend time imagining scenarios that will probably never happen

Educate yourself and be prepared for medical visits and treatment

The “powerful patient” resolves to be an integral part of their healthcare team, rather than a passive bystander in their own treatment.

  • Learn everything you can about your disease and treatment options. It will help you feel informed and empowered, as well as enable you to ask your doctor better questions. If you don’t have a copy of AAMDSIF’s patient education booklets on Understanding MDS, Aplastic Anemia or PNH, be sure to order one now.
  • Bring a list of questions to ask when you go to your doctor. Write them down when they occur to you and don’t rely on trying to remember them. For help getting started, visit the Questions are the Answer website. This site, provided as a service by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, provides tips to help you build a personalized question list.

Find support from others – give support when you can

Finding and receiving emotional support and comfort should be a foundational part of your coping strategy and there are numerous options available. Among these:

  • Support Connection: Call AAMDSIF’s Patient Educator at (800) 747-2820 who can answer your questions, listen and connect you to a trained volunteer through our Support Connection Network. Here, people just like you are talking, sharing and supporting
  • Marrowforums: This is an online discussion forum for people affected by bone marrow failure diseases. Through this website you can connect with patients and family members, ask questions about topics related to bone marrow failure diseases and read how others have dealt with difficult situations.
  • PNH Support Forum: This is an online discussion forum for people affected by PNH. Through this website you can connect with patients and family members, ask questions about topics related to PNH and read how others have dealt with difficult situations.
  • You can complete the circle of support by offering your support to others in need. Pass along what you have learned -- your experiences and ideas – to those who are just building their own support network. One way to do this is by being a AAMDSIF Support Connection Network volunteer. You’ll find giving, as well as receiving, support helps you feel fully engaged in your plan to effectively cope with chronic disease.

Stay connected with friends and supporters

  • Designate a spokesperson to keep everyone in your network updated about the condition. This lets you and your closest caregiver/spouse/parent/child stay focused on taking care of you first, and the immediate concerns that require your attention. Your spokesperson might be a family member, a friend, a member of your religious group who you might update on a regular basis so they can reach keep extended family and friends informed on your behalf.
  • Consider starting a free personalized web page through Caring Bridge.