Tell Me About It: A health problem has derailed my life

A lawyer is trying to get compensation for me and I have expert reports that point to malpractice

PROBLEM: In October 2013 my life changed forever. I had secured a job in a multinational company back in Ireland after travelling to San Francisco and meeting their team. After living in Europe for 10 years, I wanted to return and work in Dublin. But I had been feeling unwell for months and I was a patient with a GP in the European city where I lived.

I returned to Ireland and started to work at the multinational, but three days later I ended up in a hospital’s intensive care unit. Three weeks later I left hospital and started the long, complicated journey of dialysis. I had to resign from my job and return to my partner in Europe.

More than two years have passed since then. Seven weeks ago my father travelled to Europe and donated his kidney to me. I have a lawyer who is trying to get compensation for me and I have two expert reports that point to malpractice.

But we are emotionally empty and there is a risk that I might lose, which would mean substantial costs. I feel cheated, bitter and frustrated. I also suffer from anxiety disorder and I am on depression tablets. I am attending a psychotherapist and psychiatrist, but I feel I am not getting far. Is there any advice you could give?

ADVICE: It seems that not only is your physical wellbeing depleted but also your mental, emotional and social wellbeing.

From your letter, it seems that you were full of hopes and plans for a great future: working in a successful multinational and returning to Ireland with optimism. To have that future cut off so abruptly must be very traumatic, and it seems that you have had continuous suffering since. You don’t say whether your anxiety and depression preceded this time or if this situation exacerbated them, but in either case it seems that you are now at a very low point in terms of hope and life.

However, you have the support of your partner, who seems to be empathic and supportive, and your father gave you his kidney; these are like rafts in your life. That you are attending professionals shows your acceptance of your difficult situation, but these therapies tend to be long-term and progress can feel slow, so patience might be in short supply.

We cannot protect ourselves against the vagaries of life, which can render us vulnerable and fearful. However, there is a possibility that as a result of difficult or traumatic experiences, we can develop resilience and even a radical new perspective on life. But none of this can happen when you are in such a poor state of physical and emotional health.

Some self-compassion is needed now, so that you can accept and be truly patient and caring for yourself. Having dialysis and a kidney transplant are major, life-transforming experiences, and it is likely that the physical recovery needs will be so demanding that your self-confidence and capacity for decision-making are still some time away from being replenished.

You have been in receipt of one of the greatest gifts that a human being can get – an organ donation – and the love and compassion that lies behind this gift is enormous. This is a great starting point for self-care, as you are building on the sacrifice and value put on your life by another person. Self-compassion techniques such as mindfulness and meditation might have something to offer you and are worth exploring. Your partner might also benefit from these.

Then there is the other aspect of your life, where you are engaged in a legal battle. The facelessness and oppositional nature of this experience can leave you feeling exhausted and worthless. Communication is hugely important at this stage; connecting with as many of the parties as possible offers you a sense of reality and personhood that can go missing when all contact is virtual. Can you meet with your GP and have a face-to-face discussion? Is it possible to meet with your lawyers so that you have support in coming to a decision that will support your life for now and for the future?

Resilience is built when we meet and overcome what life throws at us. Developing faith in your future can be supported by small decisions on a daily basis. This might mean good decisions about what your health needs are today and perhaps a need for social connection tomorrow. Confidence can be built on these everyday contributions to self-care, and you can utilise and take refuge in the network of support around you.