Embracing the changes health challenges can bring
Our bodies go through many changes during our lives, but many of these changes are gradual, as a result of growing older. However, poor health can also alter the way we look and feel. Learning to live with and accept these differences can make the new us easier to adjust to.
Babies and beyond
Growing older brings many obvious physical changes, which can be hard enough to deal with - when adolescents turn into teenagers, for instance, or during pregnancy. Middle age brings with it bifocals and more aches and pains than before. And the menopause can also result in changes to your body, when your skin can become thinner and you may find you don’t have the sex drive that you used to, due to the drop in hormones.
A new you
However, sudden alterations in the way we look and feel are usually related to diseases or accidents. With medication and surgery you may also be looking at long-term changes. In these cases accepting that our bodies may never feel or look the same can be extremely challenging.
Cancer and its treatment take their toll on your body. Cancer fatigue, for instance, can be quite different to normal tiredness. According to Cancer Research, the long-lasting exhaustion that cancer sufferers can feel may last for weeks, or more.
Anti-arrhythmic medicines help control your heart’s rhythm and keep it regular. They are vital to prevent your heart beating erratically, but according to the British Heart Foundation they can bring side effects such as dizziness and stomach upsets.
Counselling and camouflage
‘Quite a lot of cancer treatments still involve surgery,’ explains Senior Cancer Information Nurse, Julia Frater. ‘Depending on where the cancer is, that can leave you with a scar, or even a change in facial appearance, depending on the type of cancer.’
People react differently in how they cope, post-operatively. ‘I think scars can have their own legacy for some people,’ says Julia Frater. ‘It’s a huge psychological adjustment for some.’
Finding ways of coping with our feelings about changes to our bodies is very personal. Some have counselling, others may focus on camouflaging whatever is different about them.
‘It’s not only about the way you look, it’s the way your body functions that matters,’ says Julia Frater. ‘If you’ve had part of your lung removed, for instance, you may not be as physically robust as you were.’ Not being able to do the things you used to do can affect how you see yourself.
Cancer is not the only disease that can leave us having to adjust to new versions of ourselves. Diabetes, arthritis and heart disease can also change how we see ourselves.
‘If a heart attack comes out of nowhere it can be a big shock,’ says Doireann Maddock, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation.
After a heart attack you should be offered a place on an NHS cardiac rehabilitation course, starting two to six weeks after leaving hospital.
‘This is a good way of helping you cope. It covers topics such as getting safely back to exercise, and eating healthily,’ says Doireann Maddock. ‘It’s a supportive setting as well, where you can meet and talk to other people who’ve had heart attacks, so you don’t feel isolated.’
Time to be kind
If you are struggling to accept the new you, following a change in your health, don’t feel that you have to deal with this alone. You aren’t the only person feeling like this.
‘If your body has changed due to an illness or an operation, this can result in lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, with the physical and psychological effect lasting long after the illness itself is over,’ says Dr Andrew Reeves, a senior accredited member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and counsellor at the University of Liverpool.
‘Some physical changes, like ageing, happen more gradually, but can be equally unsettling. Be kind to yourself. Whether the change to your body is due to a health issue, ageing or something like pregnancy, it takes time to come to terms with big physical changes. Give yourself the time and space you need to adjust.’
For more information on embracing changes to the body, visit
www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk or post any questions to our experts who will reply within a couple of days.