Overcoming Fear and Uncertainty: The Big Ds -Disease, Disorder, Disability

Ever thought about the words we use to associate with health issues? We use words like dis-ability, dis-order, dis-function, dis-ease and  start off defeated just by the words associate with any given diagnosis.

This is because Dis is a Latin prefix meaning – apart, away, utterly or having a negative, or reversing force. It is often used in the negative like disbar, discontent, dishearten, dislike, disown or disabled.  The negative connotation even made its way into the modern vernacular with a shortened form of disrespect or “Diss”.  So, when we diss someone we are insulting, criticizing or putting someone down.

Think about it.

We hear words like disabled and automatically assume we are somehow no longer able.
We hear the word disorder and fear our lives no longer have order.
We are told of our disease and believe life will no longer be at-ease.

Overcoming Fear and UncertaintyIn the beginning.

When first diagnosed, we often have to listen to a list of limitations. It’s no wonder many experience fear and apprehension when first diagnosed.

I personally can testify of the difficulties one goes through after a life changing diagnosis.

As a child I was diagnosed with something they called Minimal Brain Dysfunction (known today as ADHD). Many years ago, after two back surgeries, I was told that I had to learn to live with the constant pain of nerve damage, and attend rehab for a condition known as drop-foot.

I have been poked, prodded, cut open, tested, examined, analyzed, given experimental drugs, rehabilitated and visited specialists in five different countries.

Out of all these experiences, I have found that the biggest challenge is not the physical issues, but the fear and uncertainty of my future prospects, and how to resume a ‘normal’ life once again.

Understanding Fear and Uncertainty

To begin, let’s delve a little deeper into the concept of fear and anxiety. I found a great paper from the US national Library of Medicine (NLM), and National Institute of Health (NIH) that addresses fear and uncertainty. The title is – The biology of fear and anxiety-related behaviors, by Thierry Steimer, PhD

The main function of fear and anxiety is to act as a signal of danger, threat, or motivational conflict, and to trigger appropriate adaptive responses. For some authors, fear and anxiety are undistinguishable, whereas others believe that they are distinct phenomena.

Ethologists define fear as a motivational state aroused by specific stimuli that give rise to defensive behavior or escape…. Anxiety is a generalized response to an unknown threat or internal conflict, whereas fear is focused on known external danger… anxiety can only be understood by taking into account some of its cognitive aspects, particularly because a basic aspect of anxiety appears to be uncertainty.

Also, it is reasonable to conclude that anxiety can be distinguished from fear in that the object of fear is ‘real’ or ‘external’ or ‘known’ or ‘objective.’ The origins of anxiety are unclear or uncertain…

Other authors pointed out that situations lacking in clear indications of situational contingencies or likely outcomes are associated with considerable stress. The uncertainty regarding these situations highlights a lack of control that contributes to feelings of anxiety and makes coping more difficult…

At the heart of this structure is a sense of uncontrollability focused largely on possible future threats, danger, or other upcoming potentially negative events, in contrast to fear, where the danger is present and imminent.”

The fact that anxiety and fear are probably distinct emotional states does not exclude some overlap in underlying brain and behavioral mechanisms. In fact, anxiety may just be a more elaborate form of fear, which provides the individual with an increased capacity to adapt and plan for the future.

I love the end of the last sentence – “which provides the individual with an INCREASED CAPACITY to ADAPT and PLAN for the future”.

Taken literally I guess our fears and anxiety could be a good thing, because our increased capacity could translate into an increase in ability.

Knowing something is possible is often the first step to attaining it.

Overcoming Fear and Uncertainty Conclusion

To end the first part of this series, let’s remember that sometimes the key to defeating a problem is to identify and confirm the existence of that problem.

Today with the marvel of medicine we can diagnose, treat and relieve the symptoms of many conditions. However fear and uncertainty may not be so easily treated.

In regards to dealing with the Big Ds, one must realize that our enemy is not our body, symptoms nor even the disease, disability or disorder themselves.

Sometimes our greatest enemy is our own fears, uncertainties and doubts. If we allow these to control our life, we will be defeated even if we win the battle.

As they say we can win the battle, but lose the war…
Please check back for part two of Overcoming Fear and Uncertainty.