Ep. 288 What To Do When You Get Bad News


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By Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT, Kimberley Quinlan, and LMFT. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.


Today, I share what to do when you get “bad” news. This episode will share a recent situation I got into where I had to use all of my mindfulness and self-compassion tools. Check it out!

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This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 288.

Welcome back, everybody. We literally just finished the six-week series on managing mental compulsions. My heart is full, as full as full can be. I am sitting here looking into my microphone and I just have a big, fat smile on my face. I’m just so excited for what we did together, and I felt like it was so huge. I have so many ideas of how I want to do something similar in the future with different areas. And I will.

Thank you so much for your feedback and your reviews. I hope it was as helpful as it was for me, even as a clinician. I found it to be incredibly helpful, even as a supervisor, supervising my staff. I have nine incredible staff who are therapists, who help treat my clients and we constantly keep referring back during supervision of like, “Do you remember what Lisa said? Do you remember what Reid said? Listen, let’s consider what Jon said or Jon Hershfield said, or Shala Nicely said.” It was just so beautiful. I’m so grateful.

If you haven’t listened, go back and listen to it. It’s a six-week series and ugh, it was just so wonderful. I keep saying it was just so wonderful. So, if you go back, I did an introduction, Episode 282. And then from there, it was these amazing, amazing experts who just dropped amazing truth bomb after amazing truth bomb. So, that’s that.

Today, I am going back to the roots of this podcast. And I’m sharing with you-- for those of you who have been listening for a while, we usually start the episode with a segment called the “I did a hard thing” segment. This is where people write in and tell me a hard thing that they’ve done. If you go to my website, which is KimberleyQuinlan-lmft.com. There on the podcast page is a place to submit your “I did a hard thing.” And today’s “I did a hard thing” is from yours truly. I just had to share this story with you. I feel like it’s an important story to tell you guys, and I wanted to share with you that I’m not just talking the talk over here, I’m walking the walk.

So, today’s episode is called When You Get Bad News. I’m just going to leave it at that. Before we get started, I would love to leave you and share with you the review of the week. This is from hannabanana3131, and they said:

“Fantastic mental health podcast. Such an amazing podcast. I have learned so many useful tools for dealing with my anxiety and OCD. And Kimberley is such a loving, compassionate coach - I feel like she’s rooting for me every step of my healing journey,” and she’s left a heart emoji.

Thank you so much, hannabanana. I love, love, love getting your reviews. It does help me so much. So, if you have a moment of time and the podcasts are helpful for you, that is the most helpful thing you can do back. When we get reviews, then when people who are new come over and see it, it actually makes them feel like they can trust the information we’re giving. And in today’s world, trust is important. There is so much noise and so many people talking about OCD and anxiety, and it’s easy to get caught up in nonsense stuff. And so, I really want to build a trust factor with the listeners that I have. So, thank you so much for doing that.

Okay. It’s funny that hannabanana says, “I feel like she’s rooting for me,” because the “I did hard thing” is me talking about my recent experience of having a root canal. Worse than a root canal. So, let me tell you a story now. I’m not just telling you this story to tell you a story. I’m telling you this story because I want to sometimes-- when we do the “I did a hard thing” segment, it’s usually very, very short and to the point, but I’d actually like to walk you through how I got through getting some really bad news. So, let’s talk about it. And I’ll share. I’m not perfect. So, there were times when I was doing well and there was times when I won’t.

So, for those of you who don’t know, which I’m guessing is all of you, I have very bad gums. My gums, I inherited bad gums. It comes in my family. I go in every three months for a gum routine where they do a deep cleaning or they really check my gums to make sure there’s not receding too much. And because of that, I take really good care of my teeth. And because of that, I usually have very little dental issues. I never had a cavity. I’ve never had any cracks or any terrible swollen problems. That just isn’t my problem. My problem is gums and it’s an ongoing issue that I have to keep handling.

So this time, I go in, I get my x-rays, and the doctor comes in. And I have this really hilarious dentist who has not got the best bedside manner, but I do love him and he has been with me through some really tough times that when I found out I have a lesion on my brain, I fully broke down in front of him and he was so kind and gave me his cell phone number. He was just so lovely. But he comes in and he rubs his hands together and says, “What are we doing here today, Kimberley?” And he looks at the x-rays and I kid you not, he says, “Holy crap!” Literally, that was his response, which is pretty funny, I think.

From there, I proceed to go into some version of a panic attack. I’m like, “What? What’s wrong? What do you see? What happened?” And I think that was pretty appropriate for me to do that. So, I want to validate you. When you get big news, it’s normal to go into a fight or flight, like what’s going on, you’re hypervigilant, you’re looking around.

Now, he waited about 45 seconds to answer my question. I just sat there in a state of panic while he stared at the x-rays on the wall. And these 45 seconds, I think, was the longest 45 seconds of my life because he wouldn’t answer me. And I was just like, “Tell me what’s wrong. What’s wrong?” So, he turns around and he says, “Kimberley, you have a dead tooth.” And I’m like, “What? A dead tooth? What does that even mean?” And he says, “You have a tooth infection that is dormant. Do you have any pain? Do you have a headache? What’s going on?” And I’m like, “Nothing, nothing. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” And so, he proceeds to immediately in this urgent, panicky way, call in his nurses, “Bring me this, bring me that, bring me this, bring me that. Bring me this tool, bring me this chemical or medicine or whatever.” And they’re all poking at me and prodding at me and they’re trying to figure it out. And he’s like, “I cannot figure out what this is and why it’s here.” So, bad news. Just straight-up bad news.

Now, the interesting thing about this is, it’s hard to be in communication with someone, particularly when they’re your doctor and they appear to be confused and panicking. Not that he was panicking, but he was acting in this urgent way. That’s a hard position to be in. And if you’ve ever been in a position like that, I want to first validate you. That’s scary. It is a scary moment that your trusted person is also panicking. Just like when you’re on an airplane and it’s really bumpy. But if you see that the air hostesses are giggling and laughing, you’re like, “Okay, it’s all good.” But when you see their faces looking a little nervous, that’s a scary moment. So, first of all, if you’ve been in that position, that’s really, really hard.

What he then proceeded to tell me is, “Kimberley, this tooth has to come out. It has to come out immediately. We cannot wait. It’s going to cost a god-awful amount of money. And this has to happen right away.” Now in my mind, you guys know me, I am really, really strict about scheduling. I have a schedule. I’m not compulsive about it, but I run two businesses. I have a podcast, I have two children. I have a medical illness. I have to manage my mental illnesses all the time. So, I have to be really intentional with my calendar.

So, this idea that immediately, everything has to change was a little alarming to me. But what I remember thinking, and this is one of the tools I want to offer you for today, is being emotionally flexible is a skill. And what we want to do in those moments, and this is what I practiced was, “Okay, Kimberley, this is one of those moments where your skills come in handy. Thank God for them.” How can you be flexible here? Because my mind wanted to go, “You got to pick up the kids and you’ve got to do this and you’ve got to a meeting tomorrow and you’ve got clients and you can’t do this. This can’t happen this week.” But my mind was like, “I’m going to practice flexibility.”

In addition to that, when things change really quickly, we tend to beat ourselves up like, “Such and such is going to hate me. They’re going to be mad at me. They’re going to think I’m a loser for having to change the schedule.” And I just gently said to myself, “Kimberley, we’re going to be emotionally flexible here and we’re going to let everybody have their emotions about it.” So, the kids get to have their emotions about everything changing and my clients get to have their emotions about it too. And having to cancel the meetings, they get to have their emotions. Everyone’s allowed to have their emotions about the fact that many, many things are going to be canceled in the next few days.

And that has been such a work of art for me, but it has been so beautiful for me to say, instead of me going, “No, no, no, I can’t do this,” because I don’t want them to have feelings and I don’t want them to think this about me, now I’m just like, everyone gets to have their feelings. They get to feel disappointed. They get to feel angry. They get to feel annoyed. They get to feel irritated. They get to feel sad. Everybody gets to feel their feelings about it because that’s a part of being a human. That’s one of the tools I want you to think about. Just play with these ideas. You’ve just come off the six-week series. These are some more ideas to play with.

But then from there, I had about 36 hours where I had to wait for this surgery. And during that time, I had to have an x-ray where I was told, and this is the real bad news, is this infection, actually, this is gross. So, trigger warning, guys. The infection actually ate through a part of my jaw bone. I know. Isn’t that crazy? The infection was so bad and it was right at this area where I guess nerves come out of your jaw. There’s this tiny hole right at the front, around the sides where the nerves come out of your jaw and up into your lips and the infection spread and was all over that area. I know that is gross, but it’s also really scary.

So, not only did I have to think about all of the changes, but he, the doctor, the dentist had made me very aware that this surgery has to go really well, and that if he pushes too hard or he pulls too hard with a tooth or he had to put in a-- there’s these words I don’t even know, but like a canal, like some kind of fixture so that he can create a new tooth because I had to have a tooth completely pulled out. He was like, “If I push it in too far, I actually may hit this nerve, which could be very, very bad.”

So, this uncertainty felt horrible to me. And of course, I’m going to have these intrusive thoughts like, “What if I never get to speak again? What if I lose a feeling in my gums and what if he pushes hard and this is terminal? What if, what if, what if, what if?” And so, my skill here, and we’ve learnt this from managing mental compulsions, is bring it back to the present. Until there’s a problem, we don’t solve them. So, that’s what I kept doing. “It’s not happening now. Kimberley, it’s not happening now. It’s not happening now,” even though it’s a real threat, even though it’s going to be something I have to face, because sometimes our fears are like, “What if something happens?” But it’s just a what-if. There’s no actual event that you know for certain is going to happen.

This was like, “Yeah, you’re going to do this in literally 30 hours and all of these risks are here.” You guys have probably got stories like this, where you’ve gone in for some brain surgery or any surgery where there’s a risk, but this risk was pretty huge. He was very concerned. I think appropriately concerned.

So, here I am for 30 hours, managing this stuff where I’m like, “Okay, this could go really well or this could go really bad, like really, really bad.” I giggle just because it makes me nervous just to think about it. That’s a nervous giggle that you just heard me. I don’t know. I often giggle when I’m nervous. But it’s a big deal. So, I, in these moments, had to weigh up, go back to what Lisa Coyne was talking about. I was like, “Okay, values versus fear. Which one do I consult with?” I had reached out to the dentist to say, “You know what, let’s just not do this. I’m not in any pain. Let’s just keep it there. Let’s just not.” And his response was like, “That’s not even an option. If you’ve already got this much damage, this could get worse and be very, very problematic.” So, I didn’t even have the option to back out. I had to do this.

And so, as I proceeded forward, I had to keep being aware like what Jon Hershfield talked about and Dr. Grayson and Dr. Reid Wilson, and Shala. I had to really allow all the intrusive thoughts to come like, “Yup. Possible. Yup, that’s possible too. Yup, that’s possible too. Maybe it does. Maybe it will. Not going to give it my attention right now. I see you’re back again. Good one, bro. Hi there, I see you. I fully accept the uncertainty.” That was me for l30 hours, literally bringing in every tool I have.

The cool thing is it was a hugely busy week. And because I have been really doubling down on my mindfulness skills over the last few months, that actually really helped. Every time I noticed that I was getting anxious, I was like, “Okay, what does the keyboard feel under my fingers?” I have these fiddles that I play with and I’m like, “Okay, what does this feel like? This rubber feel like, or this metal feel like, and so forth?” So, that was really helpful.

The day of the surgery, I go in and I’m fully anxious. I’m going to the bathroom. I’m needing to pee. I feel dizzy. I’m not allowed to be on my medication. Oh, and that’s the other thing, is this maybe the-- what do you call it? The silver lining. Just a little update for you guys, is there is a small chance, because this infection has been here for a long time and we haven’t actually detected it yet, that it may be the reason for all my POTS symptoms. As some of you may know, I have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. It is a chronic illness related to dysautonomia. It causes me to faint and have headaches and nausea and dizziness and blood pooling and it’s the worst. And there is a chance that that might be why. So, I’m half scared and half excited all day, which is a lot to handle.

But as the day is moving forward, I’m getting more and more nervous and I start to feel the urge to start to seek reassurance. I start to observe the urge to Google. I start to observe the urge to ask the doctors many, many, many, many questions. And when I say it, I’m saying that very intentionally. I observed the urge, which is I didn’t do those behaviors. I just noticed the urge that kept showing up. “Ooh, let’s try and get this anxiety to go away. Ooh, let’s try and get that anxiety to go away.” Knowing that when it’s my turn to sit in that chair, I will ask specific questions. So, I’m not saying you can’t ask your doctors questions, but that was key for me, was to observe the urge to seek reassurance, observe the urge to go into avoidance.

I’m not going to make this story too much longer, but what I will say, I want to tell you the funniest part of this story. I’m in the doctor’s office because I had to go in for this very fancy x-ray that does all your nerves because he was afraid he was going to hit one. He’s showing me the x-ray and I’m literally looking at it. He’s showing me cross-sections of my jaw. And you guys, it was so scary. You can see the hole that it’s created. You can see the infection and how it’s deteriorated the bone. It was so scary. And so, he puts his hand on my-- and I’m like, at that point, “Is there any way we could get away with not doing this? Because this is really scary.” He puts his hand on my hand, he says, “I’m going to go and take care of all of these last patients I have so I can give you 100% of my attention and I will be back.”

You guys, this is the funniest thing ever. So, the dental nurse is there watching me. My heart is through the roof. My blood pressure is all over the place. She stands in front of me and she says, “Miss Kimberley, don’t be worried. We’ve watched all the YouTube videos.” And I swear to you, every piece of panic that I had went out the window for that small second and I laughed so hard. She said, “In fact, that’s where the doctor is right now. He’s just going to watch the YouTube video one more time.” And I just died laughing.

Now for some of you, that may have actually been really anxiety-provoking. But for me, it was exactly what I needed. I needed someone to make this so funny. And it was so funny. I swear to you, every time I think of it, the way she says it in her accent was the most hilarious thing ever. It was so perfectly timed. The delivery was perfect and I burst out laughing.

He comes back in-- this is the end of the story. I’m not going to drag it out for too much longer. I promise. But he comes back in, and I just wanted to share with you, because I know last week with Lisa, I had a really emotional moment, and I think it was really tied to this. As he was putting in the IV – because I had to be knocked out. He said he couldn’t take a risk of me moving. So, he knocked me out for the surgery – tears just rolled out of my eyes. And I wasn’t going to be ashamed of it. And what came up for me was, I said, “Please, sir.” I said “Sir,” which I think is so funny, because I know him by his first name. “Please, sir. Please just take care of me.”

And for me, tears were rolling down my face, but that was an act of compassion for myself. Instead of me saying-- because I know two years ago, or even six months ago, I probably would’ve said, “Please, don’t kill me,” or “Promise me nothing bad would happen.” But there was this act of compassion that just flowed out of me, which was like, “Please, sir. Please take care of me.” And it was coming from this deep place of finally in my life, being able to ask to be taken care of. And I’ve been working on this, you guys, for about a year, is having the ability to actually ask for help has been something I’ve really sucked at and it’s something I’ve worked so hard at. And for me, that was groundbreaking, to ask for help.

Now you could say it was me pleading with him, but it wasn’t. It was me. It was an act of compassion. It was an act of saying, “I’m scared. I’m not asking you to take my fear away. I’m just asking you to hold me in a place of kindness and compassion and nurturing and care.” And that for me was profound.

So, I just wanted to share that with you. I know that it might not be as skills-based as some of the other episodes, but I love sharing with you hard things and I love sharing with you that I’m a human, messy human who’s doing the best they can and is imperfect too. But I just wanted to give you a step-by-step one. It’s okay if it’s hard and there are skills that you can use and we can get through hard things. It’s a beautiful day to do hard things, I always say that. And so, I wanted to just record this and share with you the ups and the downs of my week and help you maybe if there’s a time where you’ve gotten bad news on ways that you might manage it.

Now, what I do want to end here with is, I understand my privilege here. I understand my privilege of getting bad news and being able to get medical care and have a lovely dentist and a lovely nurse who makes funny jokes. And sometimes the news doesn’t end well, and I get that. I want to honor you that there is no right way to get bad news. And the grief process of getting bad news is different for everybody. This was more of an anxiety process, but I want to honor to you that if you’re going through some hard thing in your life where you’ve gotten bad news, I want to also offer you the opportunity to grieve that and I want to honor that this is really, really a hard thing to go through. So, I really want to make sure I make space for you with that because my experience is not your experience, I’m sure.

So, that’s it, guys. That’s what to do when you get bad news. That’s my experience of getting bad news and I hope it’s been helpful.

We are embarking on some shifts here with the podcast. I am so inspired to be more focused on just delivering the tools to you and being a safe place for you and being a bright, shiny light for you. And so, I’m doing a lot of exploring on how I can do that. So, if you ever-- again, please do feel-- if you want to give some thoughts, please do reach out, send me an email. If you’re not on my newsletter list, please do go and sign up. I’ll leave you a link in the show notes, or you can go to CBTSchool.com and sign up for the newsletter and you can reply there as well or you can leave a review.

All right. I love you guys. Have a wonderful day. It is a beautiful day to get bad news and do the hard thing. I love you. Have a great day.

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