When patients are first diagnosed with Huntington's, asking questions can
be extremely difficult. Under most circumstances, we can readily identify
gaps in our knowledge and have learned where to find the information which
satisfies our curiosity. That may also be true of many questions about
Huntington's. Physicians, textbooks, the internet, and other sources usually
can answer many probing factual questions about Huntington's.
However, there is an emotional burden to learning you have Huntington's,
and it takes courage to ask the questions. It also takes time to understand
and accept the answers. Yet it is still extremely important for both patient
and family members to ask "How do we cope with Huntington's?".
It is not an easy task to live with Huntington's, but patients and families are
very resilient and resourceful and almost all seem to successfully handle the
emotional impact of this illness without breaking their spirit or will.
Discussed below are several approaches which seem to contribute to the
courageous attitudes observed in those living with Huntington's.
- Acknowledging that the intense emotional reaction following the disclosure
of the diagnosis is usually temporary. When patients and families are first
informed about Huntington's, their reactions can vary from disbelief to
shock, anger, or denial. Patients doubt their emotional strength to return
home and continue life as before. Everything has changed and they are
devastated. Although such reactions are very painful and are reminders of
human vulnerability, it may be comforting to know that over time these
confusing feelings usually lessen in intensity and duration.
- Living with the certainty of the present helps in facing the uncertainty of
the future. Looking to the future with Huntington's is overwhelming for most.
It's difficult to assimilate hope and optimism when physical changes continue.
Those who live for present joys and opportunities seem to be less inclined
to worry about the future they cannot control. They learn to take one day
at a time. This "present living" may be expressed by initiating projects or
skills previously only imagined, experiencing unfamiliar or favorite places
through reading or travel, appreciating family and friend relationships in familiar
and new ways, and learning more about oneself and one's purpose in life.
- Trusting that previous ways of handling life's difficulties may help in meeting
this present challenge. When faced with Huntington's , we become anxious,
fearful, and sad about our inability to predict or control future events.
- We are far less confident that previously acquired ways of dealing with life's
difficulties may help us now. Those who earlier turned to religious or spiritual
beliefs during times of happiness and sorrow may find those beliefs reassuring
now, those who were usually optimistic and positive when life was hard may
find those attitudes helpful now, and those who were learning new ways of
handling grief and distress may find that openness and improved communication
work better for them now.
- In most instances, patients and families do learn to trust that they are
emotionally stronger than they thought, and they learn to rely on many inner
strengths and beliefs which are already in place.
- Allowing the support from family members, friends, and the medical team may
be one of the most effective ways of dealing with Huntington's. Few people
anticipate that sometime in life physical and emotional dependency on others
may be necessary. Our culture encourages independence throughout life and
great effort is expended to maintain that self-sufficiency.
When a serious illness occurs, we are confronted with the need to depend on
others in new ways and to courageously "ask for help". This is difficult for almost
all, but especially a challenge for those who have rarely needed to depend on
others. The challenges faced in Huntington's may increase the need to depend
on others for physical care and emotional support and this emotional support
may also need to be reciprocated with other family members and friends. The
reliance on others seems easier if accepted and shared as opposed to being
rejected and fought.
"How do patients and families cope with Huntington's?" is a thoughtful and
challenging question. Even though the answers may be unclear and imprecise,
it is a question that is important to ask and courageous to individually answer.
Each situation is unique; hopefully, several of these possible answers may be
considered for further reflection by the reader.
Taken from: "How do Patients and Families Cope with ALS's?"
Written by: Naomi Nelson, R.N., Ph.D. Neuropsychologist, MDA/ALS Clinic
Article is written for ALS. I took the liberty of changing it to HD since it seemed
to fit so well in what we go through with HD, especially the comment "living
with the certainty of the present helps in facing the uncertainty of the future."