What is “Acceptance”?

“Fibromyalgia is kind of like my logical nature, there’s no point wishing I was different regarding either!” So went my thoughts one day, that landed me in a long reverie about what it meant to me that I had absorbed my diagnosis like so. I had written before about what acceptance meant to me on a practical level. But now I wondered, what does acceptance, as a philosophy, mean to those of us with a chronic illness?

Featured painting: Guided by the Lights (8X10, oil on canvas)

I think of acceptance as lying on a continuum between denial and resignation:

acceptance_0

Denial:

In a nutshell: The chronic illness does not tell me who I am or what I can do!
Keynote: Defiance

On one end, there is extreme denial that a chronic illness even exists. Often, this results in massive overexertion, leading to increased pain and fatigue. So one rests, feels better, and starts pushing their body’s limits almost too soon after, landing themselves back in a state of flare. The huge hills-and-valleys in the state of their health takes a toll on the mind. Frustration gives way to a strong sense of grief and loss, even depression. Nothing they do feels like it’s enough. They feel inadequate in their new state, like a shadow of their former self. So they do everything possible to act as if nothing happened, and carry on with their old lives, in order to feel like less of a failure. And the vicious cycle continues, amidst a general state of mental and physical anguish.

Resignation:

In a nutshell: My chronic illness is who I am.
Keynote: Capitulation

On the other end is what I call resignation. This is where one has lost their mojo, they see no point in fighting the illness at all (perhaps after a long fight with it already), frequently in a state of depression. The combination leads to being involved in too little activity, which can slowly result in deconditioning of muscles and joints, making it even harder to move and participate in meaningful activities. One begins to wonder what is the point of even trying, if that only makes the pain and fatigue worse. They often lose any social circle they may have once had, thus feeling more and more isolated. Loss of job- or hobby-related activities can make it feel like their lives lack any meaning, leaving only a shell of their former selves. All hope for any light at the end of the tunnel — or even an end at all! — has withered to ashes. The resulting mental toll pushes them to retreat even further into their shell, thus compounding the vicious cycle.

Acceptance:

In a nutshell: The chronic illness may dictate what I can do, but not what I can be.
Keynote: Determination

Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, I imagine, is acceptance. This is where one recognizes that there is a new kid on the block, namely a chronic illness, that wants to “play” too. The kid can throw a lot of temper-tantrums and really bring them down, but they are stuck with each other. So they may throw a few blows at each other, but ultimately, they know they have to get along — somehow! This is where one makes peace with their body and listens to it carefully, yet they don’t stop fighting the illness invading that body either! Acceptance does not mean that one is necessarily OK with their limitations, but realize that it is to their advantage to acknowledge what they are. And yet, they don’t allow the limitations to define them either! They continue to engage in the activities that lend meaning to their lives, but on different terms than before — on terms their body can reasonably manage. Like a good coach, one pushes the body, without pushing it over the edge!

I don’t mean to imply that these three states are quite as far away from each other as the neat little line diagram might make it seem. It really probably is much more like this:

acceptance_1

I imagine acceptance is a point of “happy-medium” that is in a state of dynamic equilibrium. There is a healthy dollop of both rebellion and submission, but they are balanced in just the right proportions so that it evens out. A bit like destructive interference between oppositely-oriented feelings, which each make waves, but together it’s a recipe for being able to find inner peace.

Dealing with a chronic illness is complicated, and there are many shades of grey. One does not move in a clear path when seeking their state of acceptance. It is a convoluted mess of feelings, with a lot of going back and forth, until one finds their own “happy-medium,” where they are most at peace with themselves. And this “happy-medium” may not always be the same either. It could change with age, experience, addition of new symptoms, alleviation of old ones, gains in perspective, changes in support structure, and a host of other factors! And even after finding, readjusting and fine-tuning this point of “happy-medium,” one may not always be at peace! But for many of us with chronic illnesses, it may simply be enough to be able to feel the calm most of the time!

That, at the moment, is my idea of acceptance.

Gentle hugs,

Fibronacci

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8 thoughts on “What is “Acceptance”?

  1. Reblogged this on gingerfancy musings and commented:
    This is the post about fibromyalgia and chronic pain (and depression and PTSD) that I wish I had written! It’s a marvelous description of the tricky balancing act we spoonies go through as we struggle with acceptance of our condition(s) and refusing to let said condition(s) rule our lives and define who we are. A fantabulous read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging the post, Barbara, and for your kind words! ❤ To be honest, I have been thinking about this for a long time too, and kept chipping away at the post for at least a week to be able to say what I wanted. Truth is, these things are complicated, and very personal, and sometimes it can be so hard to put in words what you have in the realms of thought. I am so glad you thought it eloquent, but I am sure if you wrote your own version, you would add more of your own perspective and experiences – not to mention, those charming photos! – that would make for a wonderful read as well! If you do write another one, I'd look forward to reading it! 🙂

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  2. I have to agree with you on acceptance and that happy-medium when it comes to having a chronic condition. For me, it’s my anxiety and scoliosis that has got the better of me a lot of the times. These days I just accept these parts of me as to who I am. Calm is something I am feeling more and more as I stop caring about others think. For instance, I do not like being social and that includes get-togethers at work or drinks after work. So I don’t go to these things and have made it clear to work and they understand. Ultimately, you want to work with what you got and keep pace with it – and get along in this world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I applaud you for being able to find the calm amidst your anxiety! I think my anxiety and depression are two things that hold me back the most from embracing the level of peace I would like in my life. I agree that not caring about other people as much, or their judgment of you, definitely helps! So does knowing and avoiding “trigger situations”. Unfortunately a lot of my anxiety comes from myself directing anxiety-provoking self-judgment on my myself! :/ So it is hard, and I believe a life-long task, to accept the pieces of us that we would like to change – especially when change may not be an option.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, it absolutely is a spectrum, and one that frequently shifts too in my opinion! 🙂 I am glad that you enjoyed the illustrations and that the post resonated with you. Thank you so much!

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