Why I Don't 'Accept' My Chronic Illnesses


People around me are always talking about this concept of “acceptance.” They discuss how I need to “accept” what’s happening to me. In fact, a few months after finally receiving a diagnosis a coworker said to me, “I have a friend who has lupus and eventually she stopped complaining and just ‘accepted’ it. She’s doing much better now.” It was as if she was suggesting that “accepting” what was happening would somehow make my symptoms go away, that “complaining,” as she put it, somehow made things worse, when really all I was looking for was validation from a friend.

When you look up the definition of “accept” there are a few meanings: the first is “a consent to receive something that is offered,” as in a present.  Did I consent to receive lupus or fibromyalgia or endometriosis or the beginning stages of rheumatoid arthritis? No. Was this life “offered” to me as some sort of gift? I did not consent to this life nor would I have if given a choice.

Another definition is to believe or come to recognize something as valid or correct. Do I believe these diagnoses are appropriate? That they’re correct and valid? Yes, I do.

Another definition of accept is to “regard favorably or with approval. To welcome something.” I do not welcome these illnesses – I will never “welcome” lupus or regard it favorably.

Other examples of definitions of “accept” I do not adhere to: “to receive without adverse reaction,” “to receive as to meaning or to understand to regard as normal, suitable or usual,” “to undertake the responsibility, duties, honors of,” “to respond or answer affirmatively to,” “to agree or consent to,” “to take a receipt with approval.”

To me, “acceptance” in most of these definitions feels like at some point I was supposed to approve of this life I’ve been given. I was not given an opportunity to be asked for my approval before these diseases completely changed my life. While in some senses I “accept” that it’s real and that the lifestyle changes I’ve had to make as a result of this life are real and necessary, I will never “accept” that this is normal, that it’s something I understand or that I agreed to in any way.

I was not given a choice.

The only definition of acceptance that does fit, is that I’ve reconciled myself to “accept” the situation. I accept that I’ve had to accommodate for this unexpected life but not because I agreed to it, only because I have to.

So the next time you’re telling someone with a chronic illness you hope they find “acceptance,” remember that we can’t accept something we never had a choice in receiving. Understand how hard it is for someone else to tell you “need to accept it,” as if it’s that easy, because it’s not.

Nothing about living with a chronic illness is easy.

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