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Patrick Mathieu on Dealing with Sickness
Patrick Mathieu was born with congenital heart disease. At 18, a leading cardiologist told him that he wouldn’t live past age 30. “My life was already more than half over and I had to come to terms with that,” he says. Contrary to this prognosis, Mathieu is now 37 years old and still going strong. He used his experience to become a motivational speaker and a regular guest on television and radio programs. He’s also written What’s Your Expiry Date?: Embrace Your Mortality, Live With Vitality and The Mortality Manual: A Workbook for Tapping into the Power of Mortality. Here, Mathieu explains how changing your outlook on life can help you handle a health diagnosis.
What is “The Power of Mortality” and how can someone harness this particular power?
I developed “The Power of Mortality” to teach others how to find the joy and vitality that I’ve found though embracing my own mortality. I’m also a motivational speaker and frequently speak on this topic, as well as conducting in-depth seminars. I show people how to acknowledge, accept and embrace their own mortality. We all have to face death sometime; I show you how to do it on your own terms. This includes making meaningful changes in your life that move you in the direction of your dreams.
What upsets people the most when they’ve received an unpleasant health diagnosis?
People will often question their diagnosis and wonder if they should get a second, third or even 12th opinion. When their diagnosis is confirmed, they tend to have the fear of the unknown. They fear for their quality of life and for the amount of time they might have left. They ask if there will be pain and suffering. Through my speaking and writing, I try to short-circuit all that. Nobody is guaranteed a certain amount of time [on earth]. Our cause of death is not always health-related. We could be in an auto accident or something else might happen. If you’re able to come to terms with your own mortality before a diagnosis, then it won’t have the same impact on you as it does when you think you’ll live to be 100.
What are some other feelings associated with a new health diagnosis?
People feel helpless, anxious and concerned. Most of us don’t work in the medical profession so we don’t have that kind of specialized knowledge. We are at the mercy of our doctors. We do what they say and hope they’re right, or we run to Google and do lots of research. However, that approach has its own problems. Sometimes too much information overwhelms us. We end up feeling just as helpless.
What is a common mistake people make during the first 30 days after a health diagnosis?
People must realize that they’re not their illness or disease; it is just something that’s happening to them. Saying, “I have cancer” is much more positive than saying, “I am a cancer patient.” Don’t become too closely identified or attached to your diagnosis because that makes it more difficult to improve your attitude.
After receiving a health diagnosis, does someone normally go through certain phases as a means of coping with the news?
It all depends on the individual. They may go through the five phases of grieving, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But it’s different for everyone. I encourage people to work through what they can in order to get to acceptance as early as possible. That will give them more options. Whether you live a perfectly healthy life or not, you still have to face death at some point. Look at your life and be fearless, focused and free from regrets.
What practical things can a person do to take charge of their sickness?
I think it’s important that you reflect on your life up to that point and not lose sight of the life you’ve had so far. Ground yourself. Try to stay in the moment. Don’t let your mind run away with possibilities. Use Yoga, meditation, reading or whatever it takes to stay focused on the present. You might want to avoid books about your medical condition because some or much of what they say may not apply to you. Let me be clear—I’m not advocating that you live in denial; I’m just advising that you stay present and deal with your condition as it is now, not as it might be in the future.
What would your advice be to someone who has already made it through 30 days?
Again, stay focused in the present. If you look at the calendar or the clock, then you start playing games with yourself about the future. If I had been focused on dying at age 30, I would have gone crazy when I was 29.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
Change is constant and while we can’t control the circumstances life brings us, we are 100% in control of our reactions to those circumstances. That’s where our true power lies.
The best thing about change is...
…life never gets boring.
What is the best change you have ever made?
When I discovered the power of mortality and realized that I’m not owed a specific time on this earth, I was able to cherish the life that I’ve been given.
For more information on Patrick Mathieu, visit www.powerofmortality.com.