The Anxiety and Stress of Not Knowing

Waiting for bad news

Getting bad news about our health can be devastating. Waiting to get the news from tests,  probes, and puzzled experts is fraught with anxiety and stress. And especially when all we hear is “inconclusive – let’s just wait and see.”

In the meantime the rash is now all over your body. The pain is worse. You can’t sleep. And you wonder if you will see your next Birthday. It is not only stressful and fearful, it gets to be embarrassing. The numerous calls to the Doctor, the visits to emergency, the tears falling unbidden, are part and parcel of living with this kind of uncertainty. There is not much worse than waiting and waiting and waiting, to see how bad, the bad news is.

Well, there is one aspect that makes it worse. Being alone. Even when you are with others, it feels alone, when the person who could provide you with the most solace is absent.

As bad as it feels at the time, it is part of the human experience. We were built for this too. As nervous as it makes us, we can survive the waiting and the not knowing. But here’s the important thing. We don’t just sit by passively hoping for the phone to ring. We do our own investigation.

I am aware of all the useless, if not harmful information on the web. But that’s not all there is. I often will check out something on MD Anderson or the Mayo Clinic or other trusted sites. They have useful patient information that doesn’t scare you to death but can shed some light on a certain group of symptoms. We can also be the annoying patient once in awhile and go see our Dr. yet again.

Playing an active role:

Learning to be proactive, with our own health needs, is not being a hypochondriac. Sometimes we need to keep knocking on doors to get to the bottom of the mystery. And in the meantime, while we play an active role and find different ways to sit and move and rest to minimize the pain and the fear, we can ask for the company of another human who we like. It’s great when that person is close at hand. But that is not always possible. Sometimes we rely on words of comfort delivered by phone or text.

The relief of knowing:

And then the day comes when the bad news, you were sure was coming, arrives. The difference is that we now go into action. More tests get set up; additional appointments with specialists; a course of treatment, if you are one of the lucky ones, gets presented.

For some no active treatment will be available. But there are still ways to improve the quality of life. The relief, even with the bad news is this. “At least now I know what I’m up against.” How many times have I heard those words uttered through tears and fear. I think about those waiting to hear. My heart goes out to them.

If you are one of those people there are so many suggestions I could offer, for while you wait. But I wouldn’t dream of writing them here as though “at least” you could do this. We honestly don’t know what it is like for person X  to live with this kind of uncertainty.

No advice giving

Well, maybe two things. Play an active role. Turn over all the stones. Make the calls. Get the second opinion. Ask for company and/or help, when you go to appointments. Even if you live alone you don’t need to go through the whole thing alone.

OK. There is a second thing I want to say. When someone is waiting to hear, it isn’t helpful to say to them, “I’m sure it will all be ok. Don’t worry.” Better to say, “You must be very worried. I hope you get some answers. Can I do something to be helpful?” Or just do something. A bouquet of sunflowers can help.

I know several people waiting for answers. I’m thinking of you and you and you. It’s amazing what we humans can sustain. How resilient our bodies are. How strong and resourceful we are. How our bodies want to help us get back to equilibrium.  And sometimes we simply need to let the tears fall for a few minutes or a few days.

However, if you dear reader have strategies you use for waiting I welcome them here, either in comments or by email to me. I can always post them anonymously, if you prefer. If anyone wants a few suggestions of what to do while waiting you are also welcome to contact me. There are no formulas or magic pills, but that doesn’t mean there are no handholds or strategies to help. Help is everywhere.

I leave you with a small poem from a little known poet whom I like.


In this time of waiting

 and not knowing

how things will unfold,

 may you find a pool of calm,

a place of peace and rest

deep within your soul.

by Nancy Gibbs Richards from A Small Steadying Sail of Love


Note 1:)  Take heart and be a nuisance if need be. And always be kind to yourself.

Note 2:) A big shout out to those earth angels that always appear just in the nick of time to be the light and the strength for someone in need. You are the best and you are everywhere.

Note 3:) With thanks to all of you for stopping by here. I appreciate you. Warm greetings, Trudy

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