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Denial

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Simplicity Anna Loach

Guest post by: Rob McConnachie
Date: October 2, 2023

What is Denial? Google it, and it comes up with ‘Denial is a river in Egypt’. Seriously. But all jokes aside, denial is one of the many coping mechanisms we have that stops our heads from exploding when we are facing an event or situation that is too emotionally painful and threatens to overwhelm us. (A bit like being swamped by the river in Egypt.) Denial gives us some space, allows us to push back against the shock of bad news, allows us to process things so the blow is softened and the effect delayed.

It’s no coincidence that the first thing we say upon hearing bad news is, “Oh no”, followed by “It can’t be true”. We need to hold it at arm’s length; we need time to process. It’s all part of coping, so it’s unfortunate that when someone asks how ‘so-and so’ is doing after a bereavement or bad news, they often get the reply, “Oh they’re not coping at all”. Oh, yes they are; they’re coping in the only way they know how.

Grieving is different for everybody, but it’s important to note that it doesn’t just start with news of a tragedy; it starts early, back when you first suspect you or a loved one may have a disease. It is already in action when you wait for your first test results. And denial is right there alongside it. I had a range of ways to cope with my diagnosis of prostate cancer; humour, playing it down, “it’s probably nothing”, “it’ll be fine”. Luckily for me, it was caught early. But nobody wants to think about the serious side, let alone talk about it, because that makes it real and we have to accept it. And you don’t want to be accused of ‘not coping’.

Why do we delay in having these things checked? Unfortunately there’s an aspect of prostate cancer that is offered as a comfort, but I suspect it contributes to a level of denial. You will find it on medical websites and in countless brochures on the topic. Here it is; Prostate cancer can be extremely slow-growing, and you may not need any treatment at all. “Great”, you say; “See, it’s not that bad after all.” While our society is very much about not upsetting or offending anyone, this may be an example of being comforted when we should be confronted. The male brain especially, will take any excuse it can to avoid these serious issues, and the prospect of dying from the disease might just be the only tool in the shed that has the clout to motivate us into action. Statistically it may be true, but it’s no comfort when you put off having a biopsy and later find that yours isn’t slow growing.
I don’t want to upset ’positive thinking’ promoters, but rather than saying ‘It’s probably nothing’, we would be better off saying ‘It’s probably something, and I‘ll get it checked’. Off we would go to the doctor, and what do we open with? “It’s probably nothing, but…” You’re already paying a gazillion dollars to the doctor, let them decide! And then you say, “I find when I go to the toilet there’s just a dribble, but a year or two ago it was like the River Nile…”

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