Carrying the BRCA gene can provoke some really difficult emotions. When this happens, it is important to have someone you can talk to – to not keep your thoughts to yourself. When we are in the safe space of another human, we can begin to relax. It allows us to be with our difficulties without them paralysing us or consuming our entire life.
The emotional complexity of BRCA
Finding out about the BRCA gene carries multi layered complexity. You may have positive or negative experiences of cancer in your family. You may not know if you want children – or if you are ready to become a mum yet. Maybe you wonder if your current partner is the right one for you. You may be feeling increasingly anxious about the uncertainty of your life situation as the years go by.
Adjusting to a new normal.
Body mind researcher Bessel van der Kolk puts it simply: “Social support is a biological necessity, it is not an option”. If anxious thoughts or difficult emotions keep recurring without resolution, it might be time to consider talking to a professional. When you are with someone else, allowed to be uncensored with the thoughts and emotions you are going through, it helps bring clarity and calm to your situation.
Living with uncertainty
I am passionate about the importance of emotional support. Our society values independence, however when things get difficult, we are not designed to carry these difficulties alone. We are wired to be in connection with others, for emotional wellbeing and to be able to cope when things are hard.
When our physical health is challenged, it also provokes an existential anxiety. This can be confronting and difficult for others to understand. From one day to the next, uncertainty becomes part of reality. BRCA exposes you to a vulnerability that requires courage. Without the right support or the right self-care measures in place, anxiety can start to carry you away.
It is ok to feel what you feel.
A threat to our health, also carries a sense of loss. A loss of the old, “trouble free” life you had. Where you and your friends were the same. Loosing this old life can lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation. If people close to you do not understand the situation you are, you may start to keep your thoughts to yourself. You may be told “don’t worry, it will be ok” or “good thing you know now, so it can be monitored”. Even well intended comments risk putting a lid on you to fully express how you feel.
Allow yourself to be
Supportive relationships calm us. Therapy is one place to experience this. When therapy works, it allows you to grow and face challenges in a more strengthening way. When you have the emotional support you need, you will be able to move more freely between the difficulties you face and everyday life.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” – Maya Angelou
When should I speak to a counsellor?
It might be time to consider some extra support if:
• you find yourself lying awake at night, with thoughts and emotions recurring. A sense of being stuck in your process and becoming increasingly anxious
• you are censoring part of what is going on for you – either to protect those around you or out of fear that you wouldn’t be understood
• other areas of your life are difficult or have become increasingly difficult since diagnosis. Some common examples are relationship, communication or body image issues
If any of this feels familiar to you, I encourage you to reach out. You don’t have to go through these things alone. When you connect with a professional and feel genuinely supported, it can make a huge difference to how you feel and cope with the difficulties you are in.
Written by Anna Petinsky. A Psychotherapist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, she is known for her passion to support emotional wellbeing when our health is threatened, after experiencing cancer in her own family. She provides counselling to the Pink Hope community at a reduced rate. To get in contact with Anna, follow this link.