Hepatitis C Survivor  

You Are Not Your Disease

Written By:  Teri Gottlieb

Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with Hepatitis C knows the terror that comes with that information.That feeling of dread and impending doom takes over your normal thought process. The immediate confrontation with  your own mortality is always a frightening experience. All too often, this diagnosis begins to consume you. If you let it, your Hep C can take over your life. I think we've all seen it happen. It may have even happened to one of you. 

From the beginning, it's not uncommon to have your diagnosis overshadow most everything else in your life. It's all you think about. You're going through a myriad of emotions that range from denial to flat out panic. You spend hours on the Internet researching the illness and the symptoms, treatments, both conventional and unconventional and joining groups on Facebook so you can talk to others who are in the same boat as you are. It is all too easy, in this age of advanced technology, to work yourself up into a frenzy after spending way too many hours doing on-line research. Before you know it, you're consumed and spending all your waking hours doing Google searches and you've found a way to connect every ache and pain with your Hepatitis C. You think you're helping yourself but in all actuality, you may be doing more damage than good.

You may or may not notice that you've started to change. You are beginning to lose sight of who you are... or who you used to be. You start to define yourself in terms of your Hep C status. Your diagnosis becomes an integral part of your thought process. Before doing anything out of the norm, you question yourself "How will this affect my Hepatitis C?" Or, you question whether you can do something because of your HCV. The topic of conversation when you see your family and friends becomes your illness... every time you see them. There comes a point when the people around you don't want to hear about it anymore and something is said that hurts... you realize that your diagnosis of Hepatitis C has changed your life. It has BECOME your life. You are now a victim of Hepatitis C in every sense of the word. You have become your disease. And no, Hep C didn't do this to you, YOU did this to you.

It's time to take control of your life again. It's time to define yourself by your qualities and not your virus. The people who are able to live successfully with Hep C do not let the virus define who they are or change the way they choose to live their life. You are the same person that you were before you took that test for HCV. The trick now is learning to maintain a positive outlook on life.

If you are letting your Hep C encompass your life, you need to stop. It's time for a reality check and some positive thinking. There is a definite mind-body connection and you need to use this to not only get out of your slump, but to improve your health as well. What you think and tell yourself, either consciously or subconsciously, not only alters your mood and behavior but it can also have a huge impact on your physical health. Stress and worry can not only make you sick, it can also keep you from getting any better. On the other hand, having a healthy optimistic attitude will not only improve your mental well-being but it will also help your overall general health.  

For those of you who have never treated for Hepatitis C and see yourself falling into this pattern, maybe it's time to consider treatment and possibly get rid of this virus once and for all. There are treatments out there that will obliterate this virus from your system. Speak with your doctor about this. For those of you who have previously treated but not cleared the virus, there are new options available that appear to be working and more that are in the process of being approved. It's just a matter of time before they get here. Look into these new treatments. Look forward to getting treatment with the new medications. Make a plan and put it in motion. 

For those of you who have decided not to treat or whose doctor has told you that you don't need to treat, there are things you can do as well. You need to change your state of mind regarding your Hep C status. A diagnosis of Hepatitis C is not a death sentence. As a matter of fact, more people die WITH this virus than FROM it.

Having Hepatitis C is an emotional experience but you can't let your diagnosis ruin your life. You can't let it come between you and happiness. You are bigger than the virus is. You have to remember that. So what can you do to initiate this change in your life? Where do you start separating yourself from your Hep C? What can you do to start finding your happy place? If you've dug yourself deep into your diagnosis, you are more than likely dealing with some depression. Depression can be a tricky thing. Sometimes you just need to pick yourself up and shake yourself off, while other times you need a trained medical professional to help you sort things out.

There ARE things you can do on your own to help facilitate your recovery. Let's start with some easy ones to get your thinking back on track:

  • Make yourself start your day with a positive thought. No matter how bad things are, there is always something positive to be found. Just remember, no matter how bad you think it is, it could be worse. 

  • Give yourself some credit. Most of us don't realize that the inner dialog we are having isn't positive What are you telling yourself? Are you pumping yourself up or tearing yourself down? I'd bet, if you thought about it, you'd realize that you are more often tearing yourself down. Most of the time, our internal dialog is so bad that it's amazing we don't curl up in a fetal position and die. Stop that!

  • Find your good traits and qualities and remind yourself of how wonderful you really are. No matter what your current situation is, there is good in you. If you don't know what it is, ask a trusted friend. 

  • Forgive yourself. Constantly beating yourself up over things that have occurred in the past won't change anything in a positive way. Let it go. Tell yourself that you are forgiven and then move on.

  • Learn from the past. The past is behind you and no matter how badly things went, there is nothing you can do to change them. Whenever you start feeling negative thoughts about your past come up, replace them with positive thoughts about the future. 

  • Push out all feelings that aren't positive. Don't let negative thoughts and feelings overwhelm you when you're feeling down. Even if it's only for a few hours a day, push your negativity aside and think about the good things in your life. 

  • Be grateful for each and every day. Live with the mantra that every day above ground is a good one. Find something every day to be grateful for.  The key here is to not think of the unhappy stuff. Find the positives in your life.

Separating yourself from your diagnosis will take a little work. You've probably spent a fair amount of time dwelling on your Hepatitis C so now you need to turn that around. 

  • Find a good Hep C support group. I am stressing the word "good" here because some of them out there are pitiful. You want a group that prides itself with only giving out correct information, one where the members offer constructive help and everyone isn't whining. You don't need a pity party, you need like-minded people who know their stuff. THIS will be the place where you can openly and honestly speak about your  walk with Hepatitis C with no criticism and no one rolling their eyes at you. This will be your safe place.

  • Find a hobby or resurrect an old one. You need to do something to get your mind off your illness. Find something that you like to do and that you CAN do and get involved in it. This could be anything from running to crocheting. No matter what hobby you choose, make it be one that you feel good about doing. If you hate exercise, running might not be your best option. Do something that makes you happy.

  • When you get together with family and friends, make sure to ask about THEM. Find out what is going on in their lives. You may have been so self-involved that you've missed things that were obvious. Have conversations about anything and everything that doesn't involve your illness. I promise you, you can find other things to talk about.

  • Set aside one hour a day where you do not let your HCV invade your thoughts and don't cheat! Work on increasing this time. As you fill your time with other things, you'll see that Hep C is taking a back seat to everything else. 

  • Go out and do something! Go see a movie, go to the library (and no looking for Hep C books!) Do something that will make you happy and gets you out of your house. Do something for you.

Lastly, I am going to tell you something that may surprise you. Learn to appreciate your illness. Yes, I said that. At first, this might seem counter-productive but in all actuality, this is a powerful pivot point into a positive attitude. There are silver linings to having Hepatitis C and when you start looking for them, you'll see there are many. Whether it's finding new friends in a support group, quitting drinking alcohol because you know it's going to hurt you or appreciating life more, there are things that are positive... Things you didn't pay attention to before your diagnosis. 

You can have Hepatitis C and feel hopeless or you can have Hepatitis C and feel hopeful.  Which one do you choose?