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Accepting I Can No Longer Live the Life I Did Before Illness

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Being dealt a hand you don’t expect can leave you reeling; if I hadn’t already been paralyzed when I received a diagnosis of transverse myelitis in September 2012, it would undoubtedly have knocked me off my feet. Instead, it left me breathless – suffocating under the weight of uncertainty about my future. Would I walk again? Would the pain ever stop? Would I be chained to a catheter forever? What ifs crowded me, making it impossible to see a way ahead.

After months in the hospital and a stint in a neurological rehabilitation unit, I was finally discharged. Still unable to walk. Still with intractable pain. I couldn’t see a way forward because I couldn’t stop looking behind me, my gaze fixated on the path I had been walking before; on the what ifs and might have beens. So I pushed myself into the mould that had been made before the illness came, determined that my diagnosis would not dictate my life – determined to live the live I had been living before.

Yet, however much I tried, I could no longer fit into that mould. It was painful, both emotionally and physically. Emotionally, I struggled with not being able to do everything I had previously done with such ease. Physically, trying to live the life I had before left me feeling broken and ill. It wasn’t working: something had to change.

But, how? How could I align my determination to live a happy life, to bring happiness to those around me, to be “successful” with the limitations that had been forced upon me? How could I be fulfilled without striving to fit into the mould of fulfillment I had previously cast?

It took me a long to time realize it, but I simply couldn’t. It just wasn’t possible. I could no longer do everything I had done before, at least not without leaving me sick and desperately sad that I could never reach the bar I had set myself. But that left me in an ever bigger quandary: I didn’t want to give up. I mean, I was being told to “fight it” – both by myself and by others – but eventually I realized that the only thing I was fighting, as I grappled to fit into this mould of my old life, was myself.

My stubbornness and dogged determination to live as I had previously done was not a fight against my illness: it was a fight against myself. And it was one I was losing.

And yet I carried on with the battle, despite knowing it was not only futile, but damaging. It was harming my body, my mind, my relationships. Still, I carried on. I did so because I felt that accepting my situation, and adapting to it, was giving up. That, by changing my life to suit my illness, I was letting it win. But, in reality, it was engaging in this constant, futile battle that was making me lose time and time again.

So, I changed my mindset: instead of fighting for my old life, I began to fight for my best life. And the only way I could do that was by accepting how things were for me in the present, by grasping the resources I had available to me in that moment, by accepting that things had changed. By accepting that I had changed.

mug of coffee with text saying 'instead of fighting for my old life, I began fighting for my best life'

It was only when I stopped fighting to force myself into a glove that no longer fit – only when I accepted that to live my best life I had to live it differently – that a way forward began to emerge. For me, acceptance wasn’t giving in: it was the golden ticket to my future. Acceptance meant adapting my life to allow me to get the most out of it, to give me the freedom to be the person I so desperately wanted to be.

Acceptance isn’t the same as giving up: it’s accepting how things are, rather than fighting for how things used to be.

For me, acceptance is the superpower that allows me to embrace the life ahead of me: it is the key to a life that can be well-lived.

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Originally published: May 22, 2017
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