I’m a 26-year-old man. Six months ago I lost my mum to cancer, and now the thought that it’s going to happen to me is constantly in my mind – so much so that I often have to call in sick at work. What can I do about it?
I’m sorry to hear about your mum. When we’re young, death seems a distant thing and we tend to believe we won’t have to deal with it until much later on. But as you’ve already experienced, life can be unpredictable and sometimes we are forced to confront it much earlier than we imagined.
Bereavement affects people differently. Emotions can be all over the place, swinging wildly from guilt, to anger, to deep sorrow, and can even lead to physical manifestations of pain. It seems to me that you are still going through that process of coming to terms with the loss of your mum. Perhaps she was your anchor, and now you feel adrift in the world. It’s therefore not surprising you are struggling to make sense of things, and equally it seems your mind has latched on to the thing that has taken her away and this has understandably magnified into a fear for yourself.
First, it’s important to tell yourself that grief is a process and to acknowledge your feelings are real and that it’s OK to feel as you do. For most of us, death is a frightening prospect. It represents the unknown and, especially when you’re young, the thought of it can induce serious anxiety.
Second, I would recommend that you find a bereavement counsellor who will allow you to explore your thoughts and feelings so you can begin to come to terms with your loss and start to face the future. Bottling things up will only make the anxiety worse.
Many people worry that if they open the flood gates they will never be able to get their feelings back under control. But it’s my experience that these fears need to be expressed or they come out in other ways; this is the well from whence your anxiety springs, and when you start to draw out your feelings and begin to understand them those feelings of panic about your own health will subside.
There is also no harm in visiting your medical practitioner and getting a health check to put your mind at rest with regard to your physical well-being too. Tell them about your mum’s illness and I’m sure they will be able to allay your fears and advise you on any precautions you should take in the future.
Take one day at a time and if possible confide in a trusted manager at work that you are still going through the grieving process. Reach out for help now and give yourself the time, space and right support to work through this and things will improve for you.