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When I Realized Accepting My Chronic Illness Doesn't Mean Defeat

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There has long been a taboo word within the chronic illness world — acceptance. Acceptance of your situation, body, illness and life is often seen as a sign of defeat – but for me it no longer is.

I have always been a perfectionist on a mission to prove something to myself and to the world. Overcoming chronic illness became a major area where I wanted to do just that – to show myself and the world that I will not be “weak” and allow these conditions to rule my life. Despite my ill health obliterating life as I knew it and the plans and dreams I had for the future, I tried to convince myself it was only a minor setback and that if I tried hard enough, it would be a distant memory.

I soon saw a world where some people truly believe that if you are not fighting with every ounce of your being, perhaps you are the reason you are this ill and you are allowing it to happen. That if you accept it, you are giving in and choosing to live a life wallowing in your own self-pity and illness. So I pushed and strived, every moment of every day, not allowing myself even one moment to just be present and admit what was really happening.

As the years passed and my health declined, my fighting intensified. I was convinced that if I could try every possible solution, surely one of them would work. Every morning I would wake up, put on my armor and begin again. I would research endlessly for tips and advice, attending every possible appointment and trying every suggestion. When I discovered my body generally could not tolerate medication, I was told by family that I wasn’t really trying and didn’t want it badly enough if I didn’t subject myself to the intense side effects I had as a result.

I had physiotherapists who tried but could never understand my web of health conditions. I would finish my exercises in absolute agony, driven by the fear of being told I didn’t want to get well badly enough if I couldn’t subject myself to that pain anymore. I was no longer allowed to have boundaries around my own body, as I was trying to show that I would do whatever it takes.

For so many years, I lived like this, and to a large degree, I still do. I have gone to war against my own body and deprived it of its right to feel pain and be ill. This has been soul-destroying, exhausting and always left my body in a worse state than it ever was before.

Finally, I realized the efforts I’m putting in to save myself are futile. There is no cure, and I have found that out in the most exhausting way – by process of elimination. I’m tired of being at war with my own body and slaving away every single day in the hopes that one day I finally enter the magic combination and unlock the key to a pain-free, health-filled life. Efforts as constant and intense as I’ve been doing are counter-productive and I am no longer friends with my own body; instead I curse it for not improving quickly enough. I’ve been devoting my life to finding a health equivalent to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, so close but never quite there. I’ve hurt myself trying to prove something to people who don’t really care or understand, and no matter how hard I try, they probably never will.

People may think this is a sign of defeat, of giving in and accepting that I won’t get better. But really, it’s saying that I may or may not get better; I will still try, but I want my efforts to go elsewhere. I want my efforts to go into loving and nourishing my body and trying to make the best of my life where possible. I choose to try and accept myself, my body and my life exactly the way it is. I choose to give up the war I’ve waged for so many years against myself, and instead put my efforts into trying to live – truly live – within the restraints of my illnesses.

So here I am, finally trying to accept – and this is not defeat.

Getty image by Kevron 2001.

Originally published: October 29, 2019
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