Are You In Denial About Hepatitis C?
Denial is a logical response to a new Hepatitis C diagnosis. While being in denial has some practical uses, refusing to accept this liver disease can be harmful to you and your loved ones.
by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
Regardless of how long Hepatitis C has inhabited a liver, receiving a diagnosis of this illness is far greater than many people can immediately handle. As is the case for many chronic, potentially terminal diseases, the psyche cycles through a variety of emotions before settling down. Denial represents one of the most commonly encountered stages of coming to terms with a new Hepatitis C diagnosis. While refusing to accept your illness is an initial protective mechanism, getting stuck in this phase could pose a serious risk to the person with the disease and those in close proximity to him or her.
As described in the book The First Year: Hepatitis C: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed, many newly diagnosed with Hepatitis C find themselves experiencing the following five stages of grief:
1. Denial and isolation
These stages represent the feelings and coping mechanisms endured in the grieving process of accepting any kind of unwanted change. Experts recognize that these stages can occur sequentially, cyclically or simultaneously. Regardless of how these emotions are experienced by someone coming to terms with his or her Hepatitis C diagnosis, each individual goes through this process at his or her own pace.
When it comes to this common first reaction to discovering a positive Hepatitis C status, denial can be a valuable coping mechanism. Willfully ignoring facts helps some people maintain sanity in insane situations; for others, it postpones the need to deal with them. Thus, initially refusing to acknowledge the reality of a chronic illness acts as a shock absorber, so that a person can slowly accept his or her prognosis.
When it happens on his or her own time schedule, someone in this position will be more prepared to deal with the realities of living with Hepatitis C, such as:
· How he or she may have acquired Hepatitis C
· How he or she can prevent transmitting his or her illness to others
· Learn about his or her degree of liver disease and corresponding treatment options
· How to disclose his or her health status to family, friends and coworkers
· What lifestyle changes he or she has to make
· How to finance his or her battle against Hepatitis C
When Denial Is Not So Useful
Despite the important preparatory role denial can play in learning you have a chronic, progressive liver disease with no guaranteed cure, ignoring a Hepatitis C status for too long can be detrimental. For people who are overwhelmed by self-blame, depression and feelings of hopelessness, there is a risk of inflicting self-harm. In this situation, professional help should be sought immediately.
Additionally, denying a Hepatitis C diagnosis for an extended period of time can be harmful, because:
· Treatment Is Delayed
– Some people live with Hepatitis C for decades without any indication of illness.
Nonetheless, several studies have demonstrated that antiviral treatment has the best chance of success when administered in the earlier stages of Hepatitis C infection. Being in denial can delay treatment to a point where the odds of beating the virus diminish.
· Others May Be Infected – Although infecting others with Hepatitis C is easiest if intravenous drug supplies are shared, there are other ways to pass on the virus. By staying in denial, those infected may not know that sexual partners or household members who share personal items are at increased risk of acquiring Hepatitis C.
· Harmful Behaviors Are Continued – Refusal to acknowledge Hepatitis C may allow behaviors that fuel liver damage to continue. Such behaviors – like drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or doing illicit drugs – can cause viral load to multiply and lead to hastened liver cell death.
· Protecting the Liver Takes Longer – Once a Hepatitis C diagnosis is acknowledged and put into perspective, several approaches can help a person protect his or her liver from the constant viral assault. The longer a person stays in denial, the more time elapses before liver disease progression is stopped. Lifestyle changes such as supplementing with milk thistle, exercising regularly, prioritizing sleep and eliminating processed foods can help people live healthfully with Hepatitis C (instead of being sick from Hepatitis C).
As a whole, learning as much as you can about Hepatitis C can help ease someone from denial into acceptance. According to Beri Hull, the Global Advocacy Officer at The International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS, “Being in denial, and not knowing much about hepatitis C makes it more frightening.”
Refusing to accept a diagnosis of Hepatitis C is a normal precursor to accepting this unwanted illness. While denial as an initial response serves a purpose, it can be dangerous to stand in this perspective for an extended period of time. Because it can delay your treatment, lead to the infection of other people, foster the continuation of harmful behaviors and prevent you from protecting your liver, being in denial about Hepatitis C can be extremely detrimental if allowed to persist for anything more than a short period of time.
Bruce, Cara, Lisa Montanarelli, Teresa L. Wright, The First Year: Hepatitis C: An Essential Guide for the Newly Diagnosed, Marlowe & Company, Cambridge, MA, 2007; 4-6.
http://www.care2.com/greenliving/6-ways-to-deal-with-denial.html, 6 Ways to Deal With Denial, Paula Spencer, Retrieved October 10, 2009, Caring.com, 2009.
http://www.helium.com/items/1491419-reacting-to-hepatitis-c-diagnosis, Rachelle de Bretagne, Retrieved October 11, 2009, Helium, 2009.
http://www.hepeducation.org/supportgroups/documents/DISCLOSURE.pdf, Hepatitis C Disclosure, Alan Franciscus, Retrieved October 10, 2009, Hepatitis C Support Project, June 2002.
http://www.tpan.com/publications/pa/sep_oct_06/hiv_hepc.shtml, Living with HIV and Hepatitis C, Tracy Swan, Retrieved October 10, 2009, tpan.com, 2009.
http://126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:zKq_BmlreSwJ:www.heart-intl.net/HEART/011507/NationalHepatitisC.ppt+denial+hepatitis+c&cd=29&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a, National Hepatitis C Needs Assessment, Kerry Paterson, Retrieved October 10, 2009, Australian Hepatitis Council, 2009.