When I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Arthritis and Endometriosis, I was determined not to accept these conditions for my life. I spent a good few years going from pill to pill as I was eager to try anything thrown my way out of desperation to get better. I tried physiotherapy, different diets and natural remedies; all in the pursuit of wellness. To get myself well again and back to living the life I enjoyed became my primary focus. I let it consume me because I didn't want to feel like I had lost control of my life. I didn't want to feel fearful about the future. I didn't want to feel sorrow, anger and anxiety. I didn't want to have my dreams destroyed. I didn't want to see my life come to a grinding halt, so I was determined not to let these illnesses stop me from doing everything I wanted to do. In strong denial I ignored my physical limitations and set out to defy them despite my muscles and joints screaming out in agony. I pretended to be well, when deep down I knew I wasn't.
Three years in a row I forced myself to return to university to study what I was passionate about, even though I knew that it would be too much for my foggy brain and pain ridden body. When I finally acknowledged that continuing my studies wasn't possible, I ran straight into that denial wall again and hit it even harder. Having to let go and stop pursuing my dream career was a burden that was just too much to bear. I broke under the weight of it. I was inconsolable. I remember sitting in my room just sobbing and staring at the wall, trying to process it all. I couldn't see a future. I thought my life was over.
Because I couldn't see a future, I got frustrated and I did a lot of stupid things like applying for an interview for a full time job, even despite my failure to keep up with part-time study. And whenever the reality of it all smacked me in the face, I went for a run; completely ignoring my weary body. I wanted to run away from reality, and in my denial I thought that if I could just keep running and hold onto at least one thing I did pre-sickness, that all of this would just melt away. I thought that letting go of my routine, my pursuits and dreams would mean letting illness win; but I came to realise that continuing to live in denial would mean losing. All of my efforts to get better quickly were futile and I was only left feeling bitterly disappointed and hopeless. Smothered by a blanket of depression, I was hating life, and I resented others for enjoying theirs. I certainly wasn't winning.
I had to accept that life as I knew it was over. I had to come to terms with the chronic nature of my pain and the unpredictability of it all. These illnesses weren't going to magically disappear. I had to make a decision to stop fighting against my illnesses because in doing so it was only causing me more anguish. It was stealing an incredible amount of my mental energy, which also drained my physical energy. I had to choose to accept that I had limited energy and that I had to invest it wisely. I had to choose acceptance in order to move forward and create a new normal for my life.
At first I couldn't see a way forward. Who was I without a degree and a job? How could I possibly keep on living if I couldn't do what I loved? How could I find meaning and purpose in just writing, reading or watching TV from time to time? But as the years have gone by and I've had time to grieve, heal and pursue acceptance, I've learned a lot about myself and life. I've realised that instead of being immobilized by my limitations, I can choose to embrace them and enjoy life.
Accepting my illnesses has allowed me to see each day as a precious gift. I've been able to stop and think: "How can I make this work for me? What are some things I can still do? How can I better myself? How can I use this experience?" I've been able to seize the opportunity to grow and learn. Acceptance has given me a better perspective; a launching pad to create something good out of the bad.
Choosing to accept my chronic illnesses has allowed me to discover new dreams. I am more positive and hopeful; I can see a future in spite of illness. Admitting that I have a chronic illness has been freeing, and accepting the uncertainty has enabled me to discover new talents and find out who I really am. Making peace with the pain and fatigue and choosing to work with it instead of against it has helped me to take back some control and live a life that isn't defined by illness.
I am taking this chronic illness thing and running with it. I am reinventing myself.
So what have I learnt about acceptance? I've learnt that it's far from easy. I've learnt from experience that you will come up against people who will criticise and condemn you for choosing acceptance because they equate it with giving up. They think that surrender means defeat. They think you're choosing to lose. They think you're choosing to stop fighting, when that's not true at all.
When I started welcoming acceptance I consulted with a counsellor, who to my disbelief, told me that I was too accepting of my illnesses. She told me that I wasn't fighting hard enough and believed that I was too happy to just sit back and say "oh well." For some gobsmacking reason she had an extremely warped and very wrong view. To her, accepting these illnesses meant that I was shutting the door to getting better. Here was a woman telling me that I wasn't doing a good job. According to her, I was letting these illnesses control my life. Apparently I was doing sick all wrong.
She couldn't understand that I was choosing acceptance in order to fight. I had to. My survival depended on it, yet she was telling me that I wasn't fighting when I was choosing to fight every single day. I fight every time I swallow a pill or inject myself with a needle. I fight when I get out of bed when all I feel like doing is sleeping all day. I fight when I exercise when all I want to do is sit on the couch, eat chocolate and watch TV. I fight when I leave the house despite not wanting to. I fight when I write and publish a blog post. I am fighting pain, fatigue, doctors and people who question whether I'm really ill because I don't look sick.
I am making choices. Acceptance is a constant choice. I can either choose to live in constant denial or I can fight for my health by letting go of unrealistic expectations. Accepting my illnesses has been the hardest thing I've had to do, but it has been the best thing I've done. I can't always control these illnesses, and sometimes I feel that I am robbed of choices but acceptance has allowed me to reduce the impact that chronic pain has on my life. I can see that I still have some control and that I can and am making good choices everyday.
I didn't choose chronic illness. I wish I wasn't ill, but I am, and now I'm learning to live with the pain and fatigue as best I can. Choosing acceptance means I'm choosing to fight. I'm choosing to control my thoughts. I'm choosing to get better at managing these illnesses. I'm choosing to grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I'm choosing to find joy in the small things. I'm choosing to be better, not bitter. I'm choosing to write. I'm choosing to encourage and bless others. I'm choosing to dream big. I'm choosing to live creatively. I'm choosing to hold onto hope. I'm choosing to thrive. I'm choosing to get the most out of life in spite of illness.
Acceptance isn't a bad thing, it's really positive. Accepting your illness is a beautifully brave thing to do. I'm not saying that denial is bad- it's a normal response to a life altering illness. It's a natural part of the grieving process. It's permanent denial that's damaging, so make a choice not to stay there. Acceptance takes time and hard work, and when you're ready, embrace it. I promise you it will be worth it.
This post was written for Invisible Illness Awareness Week. This year's theme is "I choose to..." Invisible illness isn't a choice, but what do you choose in spite of it?
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