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What People Don't Get When They Say I Should 'Just Accept' My Illness

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One of the easiest ways to make me angry these days seems to be telling me that I just need to accept my lot in life, illnesses and all. It makes me so mad when people say stuff about acceptance! And the thing is, I know they’re probably right. But it’s always “just” accept it. No big deal. Just do it.

A lot of the things people say that upset me are sometimes more upsetting because of the way that they’re said. I think chronically ill people probably know what I’m talking about. They say I need to accept being sick as if it should be simple. It’s often a flippant comment made with no real comprehension of everything chronic illness entails that needs to be accepted. It doesn’t feel like they have any right to tell me to accept something so horrible that they can’t even fathom it. Their words seem to be said so lightly.

It’s entirely possible that this is me projecting my anger onto what they’re saying. A lot of the time it’s my mom telling me this, and she understands what I deal with better than nearly anyone else. I’m obviously not mad at her for telling me I need to try to accept being sick; I can see where she’s coming from, and it makes sense, I suppose. And it’s surely not her taking this lightly, but more others who aren’t around me as much, who are still well-intentioned, but because they aren’t around, they don’t have the whole picture. That’s what makes their genuine advice hard to take and be grateful for. Which isn’t there fault, but nonetheless it’s frustrating for me!

I think I’m more mad at the sheer mass of devastation that’s occurred that I’m supposed to “just” accept than at anyone trying to advise me to accept. I’m more mad at my complete inability to convey how much being sick has destroyed me and why this makes it so difficult to just accept. So much of it is internal and invisible. It’s as though nobody has any idea so much destruction has occurred, and I don’t know where to begin to explain or what words could do it justice.

My world has been shattered. My health, the foundation on which we build our lives, has been ripped out from under me. It’s as though every second the ground beneath my feet is shaking as if there’s an earthquake, and yet the people right next to me can’t feel it. They have no idea what’s happening or how uncertain every single part of my life has become from minute to minute. They have no idea how difficult the constant uncertainty makes every little thing I do. They don’t even notice when the ground splits open and swallows me whole until I finally cry out for help.

I feel like it’s not fair for me to accept all of this without first having somebody even understand exactly what has happened to me and how much I’ve been through. I feel like I need acknowledgement. I need somebody to say, “What you’ve been through is awful beyond words but it’s OK to let it go now.” I don’t know. Maybe various people have said this to me in different words throughout the years and I just haven’t been able to accept that it’s OK to accept (if that makes any sense)!

My therapist had an interesting take on this idea of acceptance. He thought it wasn’t what I should be focusing on right now. He thought what I need to be working on at this time is not acceptance but admittance. He thinks that I need to stop fighting being sick (which is also something my mom has been saying for a long time, to give her the credit she so deserves!), and get to the point that I can admit that I’m sick, I’m going to stay sick, and that I have no control over that.

As I’m writing this, I think I just realized what it is that I really need: I need to be able to admit that it’s OK to accept being sick. Let me try to elaborate… the difference between admittance and acceptance I feel is subtle. Admitting seems to be typically thought of as confessing or acknowledging, whereas accepting is more like believing. Admitting seems to me a more reluctant act, where acceptance is more willing and whole-hearted. What I need is to allow myself to realize that it’s OK to be OK with being sick. Accepting being chronically ill doesn’t mean that I have to like it or anything about it, it just means that I can surrender the weapon that is anger I’ve been wielding against others and myself for so long, and recognize that this is my life. I can stop fighting it.

Yes, I realize this is exactly what I said my mom has been telling me! She is a very wise woman and I do try my best to listen to her advice. But I’ve realized there are a lot of things in life that people have to kind of realize on their own time through first-hand experience. No matter how often you try to tell them, they have to experience things for themselves, and I feel like this was one of those things.

But you’re not supposed to be OK with being sick, right? Why would anybody want to be? And you’re supposed to always be striving to get better and surpass your limitations and overcome disability and blah blah blah more crap society tells us about not being OK with ourselves. Disability is something to distance yourself from, not to embrace. Sickness is something to be cured, not to be alright with.

Now I’m not saying I’m not always trying to get better (because I am, ask anyone that knows me well), or that I enjoy being sick (did you read the first part of this very angsty essay?). And I’m not saying that you should be pessimistic and never think you’re going to get better. I’m also not saying we should stop trying to cure sickness. I’m saying that it’s OK to be OK with who you are right now, limitations and all. Until we can cure chronic illnesses, it’s OK to accept that they’re here to stay and that they’re a part of you, even something that defines you. It’s OK to be realistic about being disabled and being chronically ill.

You’re allowed to accept yourself and your life the way it is, even if others will never understand that (and I realize this lack of understanding is extremely difficult to deal with, but that’s why we have this website and each other!).

Now I’m not saying acceptance is going to be easy or that I even believe it’s necessarily fully possible. I personally feel that grief from loss of health can be ongoing and has no time limit. Not to say that you have to keep grieving or that you can’t have periods of acceptance (and yes, grieving the loss of your health is very real for any healthy people that didn’t realize that happens — this is why acceptance is a problem in the first place!). But to me it seems like the unpredictability and consistent inconsistency that is life with a chronic illness can upset any acceptance that has been reached — like when you get a new symptom, have a flare-up, or something like that — and can cause the grieving process to start again.

Again, that’s my opinion and I think it would be pretty great if I’m actually wrong and there is some sort of ultra-acceptance that transcends all past, present, and future complications.

But if you haven’t gotten there yet like me, I feel striving for even temporary acceptance is a worthwhile goal, even if it doesn’t last. My mom has definitely been right about needing to stop fighting what my life is. I’ve definitely been fighting admitting that this is my life for right now and possibly forever because who would want to live like this? Choosing to accept it seemed wrong. So I never felt like it was OK for me to accept being sick. But it’s beyond my control and that’s something I have to admit. Realizing that I didn’t even feel like I was allowed to accept being chronically ill and admitting that acceptance is actually OK was a necessary and important first step for me on my long and arduous journey towards acceptance. Hopefully you might find this helpful as well!

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Originally published: May 11, 2017
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