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Accepting Your Chronic Illness Does Not Mean You're 'Giving Up'

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“Acceptance is a powerful thing. It enables you to let go of what is holding you back, to focus on what you can do now rather than what you can’t do.”

Living with a chronic illness can be very frustrating and it comes with a multitude of challenges. One of the most challenging aspects for me is the notion of acceptance. I used to wrongly see acceptance as a form of giving up. If I stop fighting and just accept things as they are, isn’t that the same as giving up?

The simple answer is no. Acceptance is not giving up, it’s simply an acknowledgment of the situation. Acceptance is saying, “OK, here’s the situation. I accept that I am here.” It’s about recognizing your limitations and being at peace with how things are right now. It’s about focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t do. It’s about acknowledging your flaws and learning to accept the person you are right now.

I fought my physical body for years. But once I was able to accept, for now, my physical body is broken I was able to concentrate on my mental health which I had neglected for years. By improving my mental health and resting, my physical body is slowly starting to repair itself. The time I have given myself to repair also means I now have the mental strength to help others.

Acceptance isn’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. My natural instinct has always been to fight, but that’s one of the reasons my health deteriorated so badly. I refused to accept how ill I was; instead, I wrongly thought, “If I fight hard enough I will get better.”

Over time I have accepted my limitations. I know by being realistic about my abilities right now, and by respecting the limitations of my body and mind, I can concentrate on having a better quality of life today rather than battling unrealistic expectations of a cure for tomorrow. Rather than constantly searching for ways to “cure” myself, I concentrate on being as well as possible for as long as possible.

Facing today’s reality doesn’t mean you give up hope for tomorrow. It just means you make the best of the given situation in this moment, instead of forcefully trying to change something that cannot be changed right now. It’s saying, “Today, this is how I feel and I will deal with it as best as I can.”

You can still wish things will be different in the future, but you accept your circumstances, limitations and symptoms in this moment as they are. It’s OK to feel frustrated, sad and angry. It’s OK to miss how things used to be and to mourn all you’ve lost. You simply stop resisting what is.

Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to give up hope of ever getting better. You can still take smalls steps every day towards a better health, just without the constant struggle and the disappointment of not being able to live up to the life you had imagined.

I have found mindfulness meditation a particularly useful tool in my journey towards acceptance. Mindfulness meditation isn’t “mumbo jumbo” nor does it have to be spiritual or religious. It’s simply about taking time out from our busy lives to look after our health. It’s about accepting things as they are. It’s about being curious rather than judgmental or fearful. By focusing on now rather than worrying about the future or even the next five minutes we can experience calm, reduce anxiety and also reduce physical symptoms like pain. It’s a perfect tool for practicing acceptance.

I’m not saying I’ve got this all figured out. Some days I still push the boundaries, some days I stubbornly refuse to accept my limitations. But that’s OK too. Having a fighting spirit is an essential tool in coping with a chronic illness. Without it we would just give up. Take care.

Getty photo by skyNext

Originally published: March 4, 2018
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