Balancing Between Hope and Acceptance of Chronic Illness

Do you ever find it difficult to balance between hope and acceptance of chronic illness? I thought that the longer I was sick, the easier this would be. The first time I was really sick with stomach problems, it lasted for seven years, and then with diet and supplements I was fully healed. This second time around, it’s been four years of constant pain, weakness and fatigue. Unfortunately, the treatments I have tried have not been successful in a full recovery and have provided only slight and temporary relief.

I have read several self-help books on the stages of grief with chronic illness, the importance of accepting one’s illness, and how having hope and faith can contribute to overall well-being and healing. The challenge for me, is that hope and acceptance seem to be slightly opposing. How can I have hope and still accept my illness?

Every time I take a new medication, supplement routine, exercise program or diet, I think to myself, “maybe this was the missing piece all along, and I will get better.” When I try something new, my hope is more alive than ever. Hope is a wonderful feeling: powerful, strong and joyous. I try to always be hopeful and envision myself healthy. I try to remind myself that there are always options to try new things and that healing is possible, as it has happened to me before. I have read so many stories of miraculous healing. I want to believe in a full recovery, but it isn’t always possible as acceptance interrupts that experience.

When I try a new treatment, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped, it is devastating. I’ve put so much effort, time, money and hope into every treatment I’ve tried. I feel as though I have betrayed myself by being so hopeful. This is the point that a practical voice of acceptance pops into my mind, reminding me that this is the process of chronic illness. I won’t get better over night. There are no quick fixes. There isn’t just one treatment that will heal me. During this process of acceptance, I rarely feel hopeful or powerful. If anything, I feel the peace of a break from trying so hard to get better. During this time of acceptance, I focus on what I have that is good and enjoy the days where suffering is tapered.

I understand the benefits of both hope and acceptance. Hope is an energizing and empowering belief of a better future, and acceptance provides peace in the current situation. Being chronically ill means shifting sometimes abruptly between the two. It can feel like a crash from a beautiful high to a realistic contentment, but I guess that is just the process. Perhaps the transition is never smooth, as its usually a loss or disappointment that sends me from one experience to the next. I think it is possible to be both hopeful and accepting of illness. It is just challenging to do so at the same time.

Life is a balance of holding on and letting go. -- rumi

Now I try to balance between hope and acceptance of illness. When I am trying a new treatment approach, I dive head first into being hopeful. I let my imagination run freely thinking of how good it could be to not suffer from symptoms or sacrifice beloved activities to recuperating. If things don’t work out with a planned treatment, then I allow myself to rest in the peace of “what is.” The truth is that there is always something good in my life despite suffering. I can focus my attention on “what is,” such as, a sunny day, the funny way my cats play together, the pleasure a of a home-cooked meal with love, etc. To me, that is the balance between hope and acceptance: believing in a better future and appreciating the life that I do have in the meantime.

Image Credits: Kathleen Gardner

Getty Image by strigaroman

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