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Tools for finding meaning

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There are many ways that patients have found a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in their lives during their experiences with serious health conditions. 

  • Journaling can be a useful tool for exploring your own sense of meaning and purpose, or simply documenting your journey as it unfolds. If writing doesn’t work for you, you can simply take time to relax and reflect, or talk through these areas with someone you trust. Questions you might consider journaling or reflecting about are:
    • How has this journey changed me and my relationships with others?
    • What would I want other patients and survivors to know?
    • What have I learned since my diagnosis?
    • What can I give myself permission to do now that I wouldn’t have before?
  • Connecting with others can help you feel less alone and strengthen a sense of belonging. This can happen in any way that works for you - such as finding a support group, reaching out on social media, making new friends, texting loved ones, or prioritizing visits with people who make you happy. 
    • Reach out to people with the same diagnosis. Although everyone’s journey and experience will be different, just knowing that the other person knows what you’re going through, and you don’t have to explain things, can create a deeper and more enriching connection.
    • Don’t alienate yourself from old friends, even if they don’t “get it” and the relationship feels imperfect. You can still acknowledge what aspects of the friendship are helpful or joyful. One friend may not offer deep comfort when you’re in pain, but still is the best and most fun video game partner you’ve had.
    • Offer support to others. Angela says that listening and offering advice to other friends with serious illnesses “gives purpose to the pain. Being able to explain things, being able to provide a little hope here and there where I could, it was therapeutic for me, too.”
  • Tuning into your own feelings without judgment is a skill that can help you navigate the often heightened and conflicting emotions that arise when thinking about meaning and purpose. There is a wide spectrum of emotions that you may feel - from anger and sadness to courage and uncertainty - and all of them are valid. Rather than avoiding these feelings when they arise, it may be helpful to name them. “I see you, anger. I see you, fear.” Recognize that they are a common reaction to what is happening in your life, and give them a little space. 
  • Reframing the difficult question “Why did this happen to me?” can help you think about your illness in a less stressful way. “Why” is a hard question to answer. Try shifting to a “What” or “How” question: “What is happening? How can I respond?”
  • Using your gifts can keep you connected to the joy of being you. For Jasmine, “Photography really is that thing that I lean on when I'm not feeling well. It makes me forget the world around me. For a second, I don't feel sick because I can capture it just like anybody else.”
  • Recognizing the “small pictures” as much as the “big picture” is important. Meaning and purpose isn’t about having all the answers. More often, it’s about the little moments that make our lives feel meaningful, such as laughing with a friend, listening to a song we love, or touching the grass with our bare feet. Try to create these moments of “mini-meaning” as often as you can.
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