Acceptance: The Key to Finding Happiness With Chronic Illness
When I talk to people about my situation, most of the time I get the reaction “I don’t know how you do it” or “How are you still so positive?” My answer to this is acceptance. This applies to anything in life – if you can’t accept your circumstances, you can’t take control of them.
For me, accepting my circumstances meant coming to terms with my illness and the fact that I may never return to full health again. Accepting this does not mean I “love” my circumstances or that this is the kind of life I want to live; it just means I’m not going to waste my mental energy being mad and upset about it.
Do not get acceptance confused with giving up though, because it’s not. It’s also not being “negative” or “pessimistic.” When I tell people I’m doing OK because I’ve accepted my circumstances, a lot of the time they respond with “Don’t give up, you’ll get better soon!” For me I find this particularly frustrating. Accepting my circumstances is not giving up, it’s learning how to continue despite them.
Giving up is throwing myself in a hole until I miraculously get better. Giving up is letting myself become depressed because I’m not getting any better. What I am doing is certainly not giving up; it’s allowing myself to move on with my life and be happy. It’s so easy to become consumed by your circumstances and become stuck waiting for things to get better or go away on their own but that’s not what we should do. We need to accept things for what they are and work out how to get on with things.
Acceptance is a vital part of your mental processing; you cannot recover from a traumatizing event until you’ve accepted it. Whether this be falling chronically ill like myself, having a major accident, a break up or anything that makes you feel as though your life will never be the same. People often comfort others with the line “You’ll be back to your old self in no time,” but that’s not necessarily what you should strive for. Why go back to your “old self” when you can use the change to become a better self?
Change is a frightening but necessary part of life. It can make or break us. By accepting a change you take the first step to letting it better you. That’s exactly what I’ve done. The day I accepted my fate I decided I would use my circumstances to make me the best possible version of myself. I’ve grown so much and learned so much about myself and life in general that this experience for me has been invaluable.
After you’ve accepted your circumstances, you can ask yourself the question: what’s next? This question should both terrify and excite you at the same time. For me, once I accepted my circumstances I decided that my next move was to learn how to live with it, how to be happy despite it and how to stay motivated to get to the bottom of my mystery illness. I set goals and worked out how to achieve them and by doing this I felt freed from the burden of my illness. My focus shifted from hating my illness to loving myself more because of my illness and that is how I am able to push through it every day.
I haven’t entirely thrown out the possibility of returning to full health with proper diagnosis and treatment but I cannot make this my main focus. I’ve had to accept that being sick is my reality and I’ve even had to accept that my diagnosis could be years away. By accepting that I will not be diagnosed in the near future, it allows me to process disappointing doctor appointments easier and not get so disheartened by negative results. I can’t explain to you how mentally damaging it is to be told time and time again that your results show nothing when you know there is something seriously wrong with you.
Acceptance doesn’t happen immediately; it takes time and work. You have to be willing to adjust your state of mind before you can properly accept your circumstances. For me it took almost a year to accept my circumstances. It was February 2016 that my doctor told me I was showing symptoms of MS (which was ruled out in November 2016). I blatantly ignored this until September when my legs went numb. For me, I didn’t accept my circumstances until they became so unbearable that I had no choice but to take action. Even once my symptoms became so bad, I hadn’t fully accepted the fact that I was going to be very sick for a long time. I can’t tell you how I came to accept it because in all honesty, I don’t know how I did. What I can tell you though is that it requires you to commit to it 100 percent.
Even though I have accepted my circumstances, I still have days where I wish my life was different and so will you. It’s important to not let those days become weeks and those weeks become months, which will soon become your life. Accepting a life-altering event or circumstance is not easy but it is so important. Be nice to yourself and allow yourself the time you need to properly process things.
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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem.