The stress reaction is the body's response to a challenge. It's a state of heightened physical tension that prepares you to take action to deal with the challenge. A little stress is useful at times of threat. It can keep you alert and on your toes.
But stress can get out of hand and become overwhelming, so that it prevents you from coping with the very threat that has produced it. Headaches, nausea, insomnia, muscle stiffness, accidents, and inability to work all can be signs of too much stress. Severe or prolonged stress can make you vulnerable to a number of serious illnesses. To safeguard yourself and your family in the days ahead, it's crucial for you to bring your stress down to a manageable level so that you have the energy to sustain the intimate, emotional relationships we all need.
When we believe we lack the resources to cope with a serious problem, intense anxiety results. People handle that anxiety in different ways. Many distort the situation to relieve their distress. Sometimes, for example, parents will not accept the diagnosis of progressive neuromuscular disease for weeks or even months. This flight from reality is one way people try to ward off painful feelings — by refusing to face the truth.
Others defend themselves with another kind of distortion — inappropriate anger. They may get angry with the physician who made the diagnosis or with the doctors who failed to make it earlier. Their anger may be directed at a world, at a universe, in which a disease like this can be visited on a child, or even at a Supreme Being who allows such a disease to occur.
Or they may become angry with themselves and/or their spouses for bringing a child with neuromuscular disease into the world. This response channels the force of their feelings away from the actual problem in order to cut off unbearable anxiety and fear.
You will have taken a giant step toward coping if you are able to realize in your innermost self that the stress you are experiencing can be managed ... that you have the capability to do it ... that there is a network of support available to help you do it. As a start, test yourself. Recall difficult times in your life when you have coped successfully, although it had often seemed you would not be able to. Make a list of friends, relatives, and other individuals you have been able to count on in past crises, and in this present one add the Muscular Dystrophy Association as a firm source of support.
Also, begin now — in your mind's eye — to create images of coping, visualizing how it would be to break through your feelings of despair. Your inner conviction about this will act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. You will cope if you believe you can.
When we first learned our child’s diagnosis, we naturally were very frightened and uncertain about the future. As time has unfolded, we’ve learned that we can do things we didn’t think were possible — we can adapt to the uncertainty, control the fear, cope with changes as they occur and still have a “normal” happy family life.