Hep B Blog

Navigating Our Emotions When We’re First Diagnosed with Hepatitis B

Image courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

When we’re first diagnosed with hepatitis B, our physical health isn’t the only thing we need to focus on. Many of us experience powerful surges of fear, anger, sadness, powerlessness, depression, and anxiety.

No matter what you’re feeling, you have a right to feel whatever emotions are welling up – sometimes unexpectedly – inside you. There are no right or wrong feelings, they just are, and it’s up to you to decide what choices you make and how to respond to them.

When my daughter was first diagnosed, she was a toddler and happened to be coming down with a cold. I knew nothing about hepatitis B and was convinced she would soon die from it given her crankiness, lethargy, and nonstop sleeping.

Within a day or two, she was her smiling, energetic self again, and I happily slipped into denial. Surely the test was wrong or there was a mix-up in the result. My husband dragged his feet for weeks before he agreed to be screened for hepatitis B so great was his denial and fear.

Denial is a normal first reaction, it can give us some  breathing room to get used to the idea that we’re infected. But denial can also be dangerous, especially if we’re in a sexual relationship with someone and don’t take precautions. Denial can be dangerous when we hide our infection and don’t tell our family members or partners, even though they may have been exposed. Denial is dangerous when we don’t tell our parents, who may not know they’re infected and unknowingly passed the virus to us at birth.

It’s important to talk out our feelings with a doctor, a therapist, or a friend you trust. We need to move through denial so we can begin to receive the care and support we need, and talk to others who may also be at risk.

Anger is another common and natural feeling after a diagnosis. It’s OK to get upset about how we or our family members were infected, or get angry that our parents or lovers didn’t know they had the virus and infected us. Try to talk about your anger with counselors or friends, get some exercise to work off your tension and avoid situations—including drugs or alcohol—that can ignite festering emotions.

It’s normal to feel sad, and sometimes the sadness doesn’t go away quickly. If you feel prolonged sadness, anxiety, or fear, or find you’re gaining or losing weight or sleeping more or less than usual, it’s time to talk to someone who can help.

Fear and anxiety are common because we don’t know what’s going to happen next. If you’ve just been diagnosed, you may have to wait six months for another test to show whether you were recently infected and have acute (short-term) or were infected as a child and have chronic (long-term) hepatitis B. That wait can be insufferable.

Our stress can cause a host of physical symptoms, ranging from headaches to fatigue, that may have nothing to do with hepatitis B. It’s important to talk to your doctor about these symptoms so you know what is hepatitis B-related, and what’s caused by worry and fears.

At this early stage, many of us want to get rid of the virus as soon as possible and we’re willing to try any supplement or treatment available, even if our doctors tell us we’re healthy and don’t need any treatment. At this early diagnosis point, we just need to take care of ourselves, eat healthy foods, avoid alcohol and cigarettes, and get monitored regularly, even though what we really want is a magic pill that will make this infection go away.

In normal grief cycles, there is a point of acceptance. But I’m not sure we totally ever accept this loss of our “perfect” health, and our ability to have sexual relations, give birth, or drink a glass of wine without thinking of the shadow hepatitis B casts over these activities.

As a wise friend has pointed out, we need to accept that hepatitis B is part of us, but it doesn’t have to define us. Perhaps getting to that realization is the journey we begin when we read that first lab report and hear the diagnosis.

For support and information from other people living with hepatitis B, join the Hepatitis B Information and Support Email List at  http://hblist.net


Comments on this blog are closed. If you have questions about hepatitis B or this blog post, please email info@hepb.org or call 215-489-4900.

5 thoughts on “Navigating Our Emotions When We’re First Diagnosed with Hepatitis B”

  1. Emotional support can be as important as physical care. Being diagnosed with any potentially serious condition can be scary, overwhelming, and anxiety inducing. Know that you are not alone in your Hepatitis B diagnosis! There are a few ways to seek out emotional help.
    Counseling services in your area could provide one on one support, depending on your health insurance. If your insurance or funds are limiting, some counselors do provide care at reduced rates based on income, or be able to refer you to other resources.
    There may be Hepatitis B support groups in your local community—please ask your physician or perform an online search. If you would like support more anonymously, you may want to look at online support groups. The Hepatitis B Foundation has an online support group at http://hblist.net/ Just email a blank email to hepatitis-b-on@mail-list.com and follow the return email’s instructions to become a subscriber and receive support online.
    To find out more about how you can receive the emotional support you deserve, visit http://www.hepb.org/patients/support_groups.htm for more information. Please don’t suffer in silence. There is help for you.
    Sara S, RN

  2. What do u think of taking pain killers Constantly i.e: tramadol to relieve joint pain & neuropathy effect on fingers, wrists, elbows, knees & feet. Even the tingling & burning sensation Come & go Moderate level, it definately Brings Discomfort & restrict movement. Also CHB Causing back pain & restless Leg Syndrome RLS.. Tq

  3. i was diagnosed with hepa b also that was 2005 until this present day 2016 i still have it i dont know what to do,i like to work abroad but dont have a chance.hoping they can accept us,

    1. Hello: Sorry to hear about your hepatitis B. Please keep getting monitored, especially for any signs of liver damage. The countries that discriminate against hepatitis B tend to be in the Middle East. European countries and the U.S. and Canada issue work or student visas even if you have hepatitis B, as long as you can prove you are not experiencing severe liver disease. Don’t lose hope, experts predict a cure will be developed in the next few years. Good luck.

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