Coping With Bad News

I’ve spent much of the last two weeks cleaning out my mother-in-law’s apartment. She had to move into a board and care home. It’s been kind of sad seeing all the things she used to be in all the pictures and papers she kept.


Like anyone with a chronic condition, I know the reality of aging and death. As hard as our society tries to deny it, this will happen to all of us. This isn’t really bad news, but it does make me sad.

But things become much sadder when I turn on the TV (or more often, go online), and read and see pictures from the Gulf of Mexico. Or from Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Gaza, or all the other places where war, poverty, and hunger are the norm. Again, I know we’re all going to die, eventually. But some of this news, especially the environmental stuff, is so scary and so awful, I start wondering if anyone will survive. How do you cope with that?

Yesterday, I was on a political Web site where many of the posters in the comments section were Native Americans. One of them wrote, “Today you hear more bad news in one day than we heard in an entire lifetime before the Europeans came.”

That really shook me up. I’ve become so used to living in a world of horrors that I can’t remember what life is supposed to be about. Like many of us, I often don’t recognize the toll all this bad news takes. I despair sometimes. It’s hard to see sources of hope.

Of course, having a chronic illness doesn’t help. When your numbers are up, or your neuropathy is worse, or a new complication develops, how do you keep a positive attitude? My multiple sclerosis takes up an ever-increasing share of my life. It takes longer to do things, and there are more things I can’t do at all. Sometimes I think my personal illness/disability gets combined with the world’s illnesses to make things seem hopeless.

But of course there are still pleasures and loves and reasons to live. My mother-in-law is actually happy in her new home, by her standards at least. (She never was the happiest sort.) She gets to sit out in a sunny garden every day and read. She rarely got out before. She has more help and less work — no work at all, actually. Losing the things she used to do is OK with her, for now at least.

I still have good times, too. I went to Washington a few weeks ago to serve on an expert panel on self-management. Yesterday I went to Pride day in San Francisco and saw all the colorfully dressed and undressed LGBT people having a good time. It was fun.

On Saturday, I went to a sports bar and watched the World Cup with a bunch of loudmouth fans. They were upset when the USA lost, but I was happy for the Ghanaians. When I think about it, I’m actually having more fun and doing more interesting things than I have in years.

But still, the despair is always there. It’s more about the world than about me, but it’s still there. How do you cope with all the bad news? How do you keep your faith in the future? When your diabetes is acting up, does it bring you down psychologically or spiritually? What are your best tips for coping? I think many of our readers could use your wisdom. I know I can.

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  • Beth

    My best way of coping with bad news in any moment is to simply breathe deeply and look at the sky.

    I live near one of the Great Lakes, and the sky around here is, to put it kindly, changeable. Today it is clear blue and sunny. Yesterday was gray and rainy. Several days ago we had speeding clouds, followed by the sickly greenish-tinted clouds that tell you a tornado is somewhere near, followed by an intense brilliant gold that filled the air with the color of the setting sun. But even in places that don’t have all those changes, to me the sky is always beautiful.

    For coping with sadness in longer time frames, I have learned how important it is to make sure that every single day I structure my life to include time for the people and activities I love, along with intentional thoughts of thankfulness. For me, that means scheduling 15-30 minutes to focus on talking, playing or simply being with a person I love, such as my husband, other family members, or a close friend; and also 15-30 minutes doing an activity I love, such as gardening and walking my dog. (Because I have diabetes, I make these non-caloric activities.) And it also means breathing a prayer of thanks when I have those times.

    Finally, I have come through the years to understand that bad news is simply a part of life. Yes, we have an unusually large amount of it lately. Besides the public bad news, I have lots of personal bad news in my life. Yet I have gotten better at keeping my equilibrium in such times. Having daily practices that support remembering the goodness of life helps.

  • Linda Myers

    I don’t know, I guess I always remember that things could be a lot worse and they have been! In addition to being diabetic, I am also a three-time cancer survivor. I also have congestive heart failure that may be a result from the chemotherapy. I take about a dozen pills every morning for high blood pressure, to prevent migraines, fluid retention, depression, etc. My husband recently divorced me after being married for 34 years so that’s a big adjustment. But I don’t focus on all that. I am thankful that I am able to get up every morning and go to a job that I love with people that I enjoy working with and that I have a son that I adore and that adores me. You just have to focus on the positive things in life and not the negative.

  • David Spero RN

    Wow, Linda. Cancer, heart failure, and diabetes and you’re still working! What an inspiration you must be to your co-workers and all the other people in your life. I think your husband screwed up big time. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Thanks also to Beth for these great ideas. It helps.

  • Mike

    I used to go out and run as it would help me zone out and stay focused. It also helped me maintain healthy blood sugars. Within about 10 minutes of running, I could clear my head and go another 40-50 minutes. Now, I can’t run due to an accident so I try to do whatever I can outside to stay physical. The downside is that it takes longer to zone out when you can’t run, the upside is that despite my injuries, I’m still alive to experience all that life offers…