I read a wonderful article the other day by Rene, author of the blog Periwinkle Pursuits, on what acceptance means to her – and it really made me think: What does it mean for me to accept my pain, my condition?
Accepting a painful event is supposed to be the last of the five stages of grief. So then, I wonder: Is acceptance, perhaps, the first step to healing? I don’t mean healing as in getting rid of your illness in a way that a broken bone eventually heals, but healing in the sense of letting go of the emotional baggage that comes with being chronically ill.
I think my idea of acceptance of a condition like fibromyalgia is two-fold:
1. Finding a working relationship between pain and doing the things you enjoy. Since the pain of fibromyalgia is a constant companion, I like the idea of accepting it as one, and doing things despite the pain. However, one also needs to be smart about it and not overdo it!
One example for me is wearing heels. I love wearing heels! They need not be high heels, but even short tiny heels. They make me look good even when I don’t always feel up to it, and gives me that little confidence-boost when I need it. Do I perhaps look silly limping at times with heels on? Yes, I guess I do. I’d limp in flats too. But as my husband once put it: if you’re going to use a mobility aid, you might as well wear those 4-inch heels!
Now would I do it if the pain was unbearable? Errr, no! Or if it caused prolonged severe pain? Definitely not! But in my case, short heels are actually more comfortable than flats. With the occasional high heel, a little extra pain may be worth the look and the confidence injection! But a LOT of extra pain would NOT be worth it.
Another example is me attending a teaching workshop next week that starts bright and early at 8 AM and goes on for 12+ hours (with barely any breaks) for FOUR DAYS. To be honest, I am dreading the brutality of the flare that is going to follow. But I am also very interested in learning more about scientific teaching so I can be a better teacher. So I am really really hoping that the workshop is worth the flare up of my symptoms!
2. Being grateful for the good things the pain/chronic condition has brought into your life. This one took me a while, but I think is very important. I believe that there is a reason things happen to us, though it may not be clear for a while what that is. Every event in our lives is meant to teach us something. The biggest thing fibromyalgia has taught me is to be grateful for the tiniest things each day.
For instance: most people can walk from one place to another without expending much thought to it. I used to be one of those people not so terribly long ago. But now I feel every step I take as I walk, and part of my mind has to be constantly focused on my walking. My breath has to be synchronized with my movements when going up or down the stairs. I call it mindful walking! And I’m grateful for being able to do it. I am grateful for the days when I am just achy instead of crying in pain. I am grateful for the days when I can go back to work after my aquatic medical exercise sessions, instead of the the fatigue making me bed-ridden. I am grateful for being able to get up in the morning, get dressed, go to work, and live a full day.
Do I believe it is bringing me closer to healing though?
In some ways, yes:
Being able to accept my pain and make changes to my life accordingly has brought me some measure of healing on an emotional level. It has helped me see myself and my goals in new light. I have come to realize that working around my condition is not giving in to it, despite what people say. It has forced me to look for new doors and try to open them as old ones have closed on me. Perhaps even look for a few windows with cracks in them!
But in other ways, probably not. Here’s one example why:
Yesterday at my medical exercise session, I was asked how I felt. I responded, not too bad given the stormy weather. But my old physical therapist (who knew I was sensitive to the weather) noticed I looked awfully drained. I admitted I was tired. So they tried to provide me with some relief by floating me horizontally with one pool noodle under my neck and another under my knees. And I never realized how much pain I was in until I felt it melt away! I told my PT and EP that that was the first bit of pain relief I’d had all day.
That kind of acceptance can be dangerous in many ways! If I accept the pain so much so that I am misjudging its intensity and impact on me, then that could hide other serious conditions that might crop up in the future. But it is hard to know what feels abnormal when you haven’t felt “normal” in ages! So maybe the true healing comes from the next thing fibromyalgia is trying to teach me: MINDFUL ACCEPTANCE!