I’ve had a pretty easy life, but illness has thrown some curves. Giving up sports, then dancing, then walking, things like that. For me, the key has been acceptance. We have to accept a situation before we can deal with it or change it.
Until I accepted that multiple sclerosis was real and wasn’t going away, I couldn’t rebuild my life after diagnosis. Likewise with diabetes, before you do the work — monitoring to learn how foods affect you, researching what might help, and trying new things — you have to first accept that you really do have diabetes. Otherwise, it’s way too hard.
I don’t think acceptance means giving up. We can accept and fight back. In fact, until we accept our illness, we probably can’t fight back. Denial is OK in small quantities; it gives you a break. But too much of it will do serious harm to a person with diabetes. We can dream about a medical cure or a magical healing, but those dreams probably interfere with the self-care needed to get control.
Acceptance isn’t only about illness. There are other things to accept, like the reality that we are all going to die some day. Eventually, we all lose everything we ever loved. Either it leaves us or we leave it. For me, accepting that reality has meant learning to enjoy and appreciate the things and people in my life, every day. It also has meant adopting a Buddhist attitude towards death — it’s not the end; it’s more like a very long nap between periods of living, as I wrote about here.
And then, what about all the terrible things that happen, especially the things people do to each other and to other living things? What about the environmental crises growing every day? What about wars and injustices happening all around us? Should we accept those? Can we?
For me, the best I can do is try to do a little something about a couple of issues. Not all the issues, just one or two. But first I have to accept that these situations are real. It’s not necessarily that some people are evil or crazy or ignorant. They’re just living the way they’ve been born and raised to live.
When it comes to being well, I think the most important part of acceptance is accepting yourself. It’s also one of the hardest. Most of us think we have a wide range of faults. Hopefully, these faults don’t involve hurting others, but we often blame ourselves for things that go wrong.
In reality, our behavior or genetics usually do play some part in our lives, but our physical and social environments do much more to shape who we are. Chronic illness researcher Nicola J. Davies, PhD, wrote a valuable piece on having compassion for yourself on our Web site. It’s worth reading.
I find that when I accept myself, it becomes easier to accept others. I feel more whole, stronger, so that other people’s words and behavior can’t affect me much.
A friend broke up with me a couple of months ago over things that seemed kind of trivial to me. She decided she didn’t like some of my attitudes about medicine and politics, and I hadn’t taken her side in an argument with a neighbor as she wished.
I was upset about the whole thing. But a few weeks ago, I had come to a place of greater wholeness. I accepted her as she is, and now the friendship seems healed. The thing is, until I felt more whole, I couldn’t see that I hadn’t been accepting her in the first place.
So I’m thinking acceptance is key to peace, and it’s also key to doing something about a situation. But feeling strong and whole is key to acceptance. They sort of go together, but I’m not exactly sure how. If you have any thoughts on the subjects, please let me know.