Being dealt a hand that you don’t expect can leave you reeling; if I hadn’t already been paralysed when I received the diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis 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 ever be able to stop using a catheter? What ifs crowded me, and made it impossible for me to see a way ahead.
After a long period in hospital, and a stint in a neurological rehabilitation unit, I was allowed home. Still unable to walk. Still in pain. I couldn’t see a way forward because I couldn’t stop looking behind me, fixated on the path I was on 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 not to allow my illness to dictate my life: determined to live the live I had had before.
Yet, however much I tried, I could no longer fit into that mould. It was painful; emotionally and physically. Emotionally, I struggled with not being able to do everything I had before. Physically, trying to live the life I had before left me 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 in the mould of fulfilment I had previously cast?
It took me a long to time realise it, but I simply couldn’t. It just wasn’t possible. I could no longer do everything that I had done before, at least not without leaving me broken 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 realised 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 the battle, despite knowing that it was not only futile, but that it was damaging. It was harming my body, my mind, my relationships. Still, I carried on. I did so because I felt like 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.
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 now were for me, by accepting that things had changed. By accepting that I had changed.
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 wanted to be.
Acceptance isn’t the same as giving up: it is accepting how things are, rather than fighting for how things used to be.
For me, acceptance was the superpower that allowed me to embrace the life ahead of me: it was the key to a life that could be well-lived.