Accepting Your Chronic Illness Is Not a Straightforward Process
By definition, acceptance is “the willingness to tolerate a difficult situation.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. In fact, it couldn’t be further from it.
Firstly, the term “tolerate” just doesn’t sit that well with me. To tolerate something is to allow it to exist without interfering. And to me, a person with chronic illness, not interfering is completely out of the question. Yes, I allow my condition to exist. But no, that is not at all out of choice. Rather, I allow it to exist because I have to, because no matter how hard I try to ignore it, it will still be there somewhere in the background. And I don’t believe living in denial about my condition did anything to help me. But to not interfere with this condition would be letting it take control of me and that is not something I am willing to do. I will interfere as much as I deem fit as I will do anything to make life that little bit easier, but I fail to believe this means I don’t accept it. This word makes acceptance seem more like giving up, or giving in, which couldn’t be further from what it means to me.
Secondly, acceptance does not mean I will stop fighting. It does, however, mean I will change the way I fight. I will always continue to fight for ways to help, ways to minimize the pain and make each day more bearable. That’s what I need to do to survive. I will battle my way through each new symptom and through all the flares. I will fight so I can thrive and so I can be the best person I can be. But I will stop fighting against the pain and the sickness. I will stop resisting what I cannot control and stick to just fighting for the best way to manage it.
Thirdly, and most importantly, acceptance doesn’t just happen. You don’t just wake up one day and begin to “tolerate” living with a chronic condition. It’s a long and bumpy journey to get to the point of acceptance, and truly, I do not believe I am completely there yet and maybe I never fully will be. For me, acceptance comes and goes. It’s a cycle. Some days I still find myself resisting the pain, denying its severity and the impacts it has on me. But other days, I acknowledge what’s happening and look for the best way to deal with it.
There are times where I will accept my condition for months on end, until a new symptom arises or it feels like it’s getting worse. Then I will start back at square one. I will go back to denial, back to trying to simply ignore it and just wishing it would go away. But slowly and surely, I learn again and again to stop avoiding the reality.
And sometimes there isn’t always a reason, but I begin to try to shut everything out. Sometimes (in fact, very often) I don’t want to have to accept this is my life. I fall into a cycle of questioning why I should have to accept pain, why I should have to accept suffering. I don’t want to believe this is what my life will be like forever and I think part of me hopes that if I never accept it, it will never become reality. But I know this isn’t true. I know that regardless of how hard I try to pretend it isn’t there, it always will be.
So, to me, acceptance is so far from simple or straightforward and if you asked me to tell you what acceptance means to me, I would say something like this (and I still believe this makes it sound much easier than it is):
Acceptance is about understanding your conditions for what they are and learning to stop trying to resist what you cannot control. It’s embracing the truth about your body, your health and your limitations and finding the best way to manage.
After all, it is what it is. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, our conditions are chronic and they’re here to stay. So rather than fighting against it, fight with your body and fight to be the best you can be.
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Thinkstock photo via disqis.