How I Started to Learn to Accept My Chronic Illness – Part 1

I go on/talk a lot about acceptance and with (what I think) is good reason. For me, acceptance was the first step to embracing my life as it really is: a step that was crucial to my ability to take my life off of pause. A step that enabled me to take action and move forwards. Beforehand, I had been paralysed (figuratively, as well as literally): frozen between the place I wanted to be and the actual reality I found myself in. But refusing to accept my reality didn’t change it; it just rendered me powerless to move forwards with my life.

So, that’s why I talk about acceptance, but – like so many things – it is something that’s considerably easier to talk about than to actually do. The difficulty of learning to accept a situation you never wanted to be in, coupled with the mis-guided (and frankly destructive) notion that acceptance is the same as giving up (spoiler: it’s not) mean that even knowing how to start accepting life with a chronic illness can be overwhelming. So, I won’t say it was easy, but there were a few things that helped me along the way.

  • Recognising that the situation is what it is, and that not everything can be fixed:

I found it useful to focus on the idea that, although we do not have control over every situation we find ourselves in, we do have control of how we respond and react to it. Instead of focusing on the frustrations of the things I couldn’t change about my illness, I instead focused on the things I could – the things I knew made me feel better – be that emotionally or physically: spending time with people I love, exercising when possible, feeling the sunshine on my skin, eating well. Taking action on the things I had control over put me back in the driving seat on a journey I had, beforehand, been an unwilling passenger on.

  • Altering my expectations:

I realised that adjusting my expectations was necessary – no, essential – to avoid feelings of constant frustration and disappointment. (I purposefully say altering, rather than lowering, because I view these adjustments as a sidestep to my expectations, rather than a rung up or down the ladder.) This adjustment was necessary in every area of my life: altering what I expected of my body to avoid hurting myself, making myself even more ill, or constantly feeling like I was failing; changing what I expected from my medical team, from expecting them to fix me, to helping them to help me to live the best life possible; altering the expectations of my friends and loved ones, from expecting them to understand what I was going through, to being appreciative that they were there for me, that they showed up, that they loved me regardless – because no-one can know what living with chronic illness is like unless they have lived it, and as that is the case I would never, ever, want them to understand it. These adjustments increased my sense of self-worth (a topic for a later post), helped me to get the most from my medical team, and improved my relationships with those around me. The realisation that I needed to alter my expectations changed my life exponentially for the better.

  • Embracing the community:

We are fortunate enough to live in a time when the world is at our fingertips, and that world includes a whole army of people living with chronic illness. Talking to those people, just hearing someone say, ‘Oh, me too!’ can help endlessly with not only accepting how life is, but with finding the glimmer of light in days that can seem filled with darkness. Making connections with people having the same experiences as me somehow validated my experience, and helped me not only accept – by embrace – the life ahead of me: chronic illness and all.

Acceptance isn’t something that just happens and then it’s done: it’s not a finishing line to cross. But it’s something I strive to persevere with, something I know it is essential to work on continuously, because I have lived without it – and I know my life is so much better with acceptance on my side.

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