How To Become An Empowered Patient: 7 Strategies to Maintain Your Sense of Self

This blog post is written by Michele Rosenthal.  She will be a guest on my radio show on February 28, 2013 at 6PM EST on www.blogtalkradio.com

In 1997 my world fell apart. True, it had been sixteen years in the making, but when the rug was pulled from beneath me I was twenty-nine years old and clueless about what to do, where to find help and how to heal from a mysterious illness that was turning up undiagnosable problems with my stomach, intestines, liver and bones. Little by little fear and discomfort forced me to disconnect from myself until I was just a shell of who I once had been.

Plagued by extreme fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue I dragged myself from doctor to therapist to alternative practitioner searching for clues about how to reclaim my sense of self and also my life. It would be ten years (plus one diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder) before I put together all the answers I needed to heal and move into freedom. Along the way I learned seven must-do techniques to infuse a little empowerment into the process of knocking around the mental and physical healthcare system. Encompassing both internal connection and external action these seven actions pave the way to more deeply connect with your strengths and resources.

Trust yourself – When we seek experts to advise us on what to do we automatically subvert our own authority to their medical and other degrees. Naturally, we look to them as the experts. However, it’s critical to remember that you are the only expert in you. If you feel, think or know something that seems important and relevant – then it is! You’re the only one in your body. Trust what you know as much as you trust what the professionals know.

 Believe in your own truth – There will be friends, colleagues, family and even professionals who question what you report. They may say you’re making up symptoms, that what you experience can’t possibly be true or any other number of dismissive comments. The fact is, only you know what it feels like to be you. Believe in your experience and seek out a support system who come into your world with you to find answers versus demand you leave your truth behind and enter their more quantifiable and explicable universe.

 Seek people willing to listen/share/engage – When you’re a patient, even if you have people willing to stand beside you, it’s easy to feel alone. Isolated in your pain, frustration, disappointment and confusion the overwhelm of emotion can leave you feeling as if no one will ever understand the reality in which you’re living. To subvert that feeling, find people who will really listen to what you have to say, share their own challenging stories, and offer to actively support you through your illness. Specialty groups exist in both the online and offline worlds where you can find people going through what you are experiencing. Adding to those connections a positive and proactive personal support team lessens the loneliness of any medical journey.

Research – The only hope we have for adroitly managing any type of illness is being informed. The more you know about your individual symptoms and the possibilities of what they add up to as a whole the more intelligently you can converse with healthcare professionals. They will not always have the answers. Nor will they always have the faintest idea of how the symptoms add up to a condition that can be addressed. Through research you, however, can have an overview and insights into many different aspects of yourself and your illness, which allows you to collaborate with doctors in the most high-functioning manner.

 Interview – Remember that in working with healthcare professionals you are the employer. You have a right to ask questions, challenge answers and expect practitioners to perform. Rather than sitting back and accepting their authority position, turn the tables. Approach the management of your health as a business and you are the CEO. You must hire the right department heads and support staff to successfully manage this business. Ask the hard questions and set the standard for quality performance. Expect your professionals to live up to a standard of care and when they don’t replace them with others who will.

 Ask for what you need – No one can read your mind. The more silent you are the less you will receive the care, help and support that would make a difference in your journey. Get into the habit of asking everyone who can help you for what you need. As patients we have a tendency to get so wrapped up in our despair that we fall silent. Ask, ask, ask for the smallest to largest things that will ease your path.

 Hope and believe – Without hope and belief you cannot heal. As important as it is for the medications, tests, diagnoses, practitioners and procedures to be accurate it is equally important for your attitude to work for, rather than against, your recovery. Scientifically, your brain looks for proof of what you tell it. Focus it on the dire deetails of your circumstance and it will bring you more of that. Alternatively, steer your mind toward the ultimate positive outcome and it will partner with you in the most proactive way to turn those thoughts into reality.

I believe every single one of us has enormous healing potential. The goal is learning to access it. Sometimes we do that by looking without; often we also do that by looking within. Putting the two realms together activates the highest percentage of resources you have for finding success within the healthcare system. It also gives you the most control over a process that usually feels enormously out of control. In that sensation of empowerment you access your deepest strength.

Michele Rosenthal inspires audiences to overcome pain, fear, anxiety and depression by making the shift from powerless to powerful. A trauma/PTSD survivor, she is a mental health advocate, speaker, workshop/seminar leader, the founder of HealMyPTSD.com and the host of Your Life After Trauma radio show. Her book, Before The World Intruded: Conquering the Past and Creating the Future, is a finalist for the Books For A Better Life award. For more information visit: YourLifeAfterTrauma.com